Rio Helmi

Interview by Adam Abela.


Rio Helmi is an Indonesian photographer and writer. He has been a resident of Ubud for over forty years. Born to an Indonesian Diplomat Father and Turkish mother, Helmi speaks five languages fluently.

Much of Helmi’s current work focuses on Balinese culture, and the interaction between indigenous people and their environment. In the past he has traveled broadly across the Indonesian Archipelago, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, Japan, Ladakh and Mongolia, to photograph both distant tribal people and modern urban life. Rio Helmi now freelances for many regional and international magazines also having publishing several large format photo books.

What influenced you to get into the photography industry?

I was always interested in telling stories, showing aspects of what was happening around us to people who otherwise might never know. Photography seemed to me, a very direct means of communication, that could touch people in a very direct manner. What I consider to my real work in photography is somewhere between photojournalism and documentary photography.


What is it you want to share with the world?

I don’t think I have one particular “message to the world”. A lot of photojournalism is a reaction to what is happening around us. However, where that reaction comes from involves a whole set of values, experiences, and aspiration. I’ve always been interested in what happens to people at the grassroots level, in remote areas, which are normally off the radar. I think there are many stories yet to be told. In Indonesia and many parts of Asia there are many people who experience difficulties which people ignore. Also many who have something of interest to share. I am interested in sharing stories about interesting people, about artists, about people who influence culture.


Much of your work is captured in Bali, such as ‘Memories’.
Is it your aim to spread a wider message about the
Balinese spiritual culture?

A memory is about something which has passed. It does concern me that so much is being lost in the fast and furious pace of change on this island. Aspects of the culture which made it so special, (for example) the natural beauty.


You are also the photographer of the book ‘Bali Style’ which cover the celebration of the traditional Balinese architecture, interiors, arts and crafts.
What history of importance do these traditions have towards Balinese people?

That book was a commissioned book. Initially I didn’t really want to do it, but my publisher pushed me. Eventually I gave in because even then I had a sense of how much of the architecture of Bali was disappearing, so I slightly subverted the original concept to include not just fancy villas but a lot of the classic (and some of the quirky) Balinese architecture. The book is now fast becoming a historical reference book.


Your work appears in magazines, documentaries and you have over 20 large format books. Which one is your favorite? Why?

Well I think Memories of the Sacred really stands out for me. It is pretty much a condensed retrospective of 30 years of my work on Bali – it helped me to make sense of all those long hours waiting, shooting, and just getting there which in the old days was a lot harder!
River of Gems my Borneo book with Lorne Blair is also important to me. There was some pretty wild adventure, and it was all done with my best friend who sadly died far too young in my opinion.

What motivates you as a photographer?

It’s always the story that pulls you in.

You become involved in it.

It becomes the driving force.


Rio Helmi Photography. 2017. “Rio Helmi Photography”.

Retrieved 3 April 2017, from

Memories of The Sacred. 2017. “Afterhours Books”.

Retrieved 3 April 2017, from

Style, B., & Helmi, R. 2017. “Bali Style. Alibris”.

Retrieved 3 April 2017, from

Home – Ubud Now & Then. 2017. “Ubud Now & Then”.

Retrieved 3 April 2017, from

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