Wilko Meiborg

Songbirds play a significant role in everyday life in Indonesia. According to legend, one day Joko Mangu, a prince from the realm of the Sunda, is transformed into a zebra dove. The Sultan of Majapahit, the last great Hindu thalassocracy, hears the dove’s song in his garden and decides to keep the bird as a pet. One morning, Joko Mangu disappears. The sultan goes in search of him, for he misses the bird dearly. He finally finds the dove with a man named Ki Ageng. Through their love for the bird, the two men develop a great friendship. As a gesture of gratitude for the return of the bird, the sultan gives Ki Ageng two pumpkins filled with gold and precious stones. Since then, it has been impossible to imagine an Indonesian house – rich or poor – without a zebra dove. Over the past 60 years, a veritable cult has arisen surrounding all songbirds. This project is devoted to the myth of the bird, the human view of it and the contradictory relationships between bird lovers and their pets.

  • Animals
  • Artificiality
  • Beauty
  • Myth
  • Prison

»A man needs a house, a wife, a horse, a kris* and a bird to live a fulfilled life.«

Javanese proverb, *A traditional dagger used for ceremonial purposes.
3 Questions
1. The door opener: Can you describe a formative moment in your career as a visual journalist?

Something that crystallised over the course of my photography studies is that the projects that preoccupy me the most represent a personal view of a social, current topic. In contrast to classical reportages, photoessays offer the possibility to more clearly define a message or question by using targeted interventions and staging. In terms of this development process, Rob Hornstra and Arnold van Bruggen’s “Sochi Project” provided an impulse that motivated me to work more closely with visual journalism.

2. The decisive moment: When did you first encounter your topic and why did you decide to cover it photographically?

On my quest for subjects that could be used to illustrate processes in the Anthropocene that create structures of power and powerlessness, I found out about the “Silent Forest” campaign initiated by the EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria) from 2017 to 2019. The aim of this campaign was to draw attention to the threat of songbird extinction in South East Asia. The campaign identifies songbird competitions as one cause of this problem. Our love for songbirds is also a reason they are disappearing from wild spaces. This is a vivid story for presenting the processes I’ve mentioned.

3. The future: What could the visual journalism of the future be like?

For me, the most interesting question is how pictures in journalism will be seen in the future. The function of the picture as proof has lost some of its meaning, and there is no such thing as an objective photo. As a consequence, authors carry a much greater responsibility in contextualising their visual media. Focusing more on playing off the various perspectives of a topic could be a way of dealing with this responsibility.

Extracts from the index of the book „Songmachine“ by Wilko Meiborg. © Wilko Meiborg 2020.

Found in Research

Video instructions for building a bird trap. The tutorial has more than 26 million views.

The „Silent Forest” campaign, initiated by EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquariums) and TRAFFIC (Organization for the surveillance of wildlife trade), is intended to protect endangered Asian songbirds from extinction.

Curated by Martin Albermann

© for all photos by the photographers
© for videos Lumix Festival Hanover, if not indicated otherwise.

*1993 in Cologne, Germany
Wilko Meiborg is a student of Photography at Dortmund University of Applied Sciences and Arts. His photo essays examine the use and limits of documentary methods. He is a member of the artists’ group 4:1.


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