Cornelius Kaess

German photographer Cornelius Kaess brings to life the interplay between people and nature on Sumba, an island often overshadowed by its more famous Indonesian counterparts.


Sumba Islnads is a treasure trove of tradition and natural splendor: the sight of horses galloping along the shore is a striking and somewhat unexpected element in Kaess’ reportage. These horses are not mere picturesque additions but are deeply embedded in the island’s history and culture. The origin of horses on Sumba dates back centuries, introduced by traders and explorers who recognized the island’s potential as a breeding ground due to its vast, open landscapes and favorable climate.


Horses have been integral to Sumbanese life since their arrival, becoming symbols of wealth, status, and tradition. They are central to various local customs and ceremonies, especially the Pasola festival, a ritual war game held to celebrate the rice-planting season. During Pasola, horsemen engage in mock battles, showcasing their riding skills and the agility of their steeds, embodying the island’s spirit and resilience. For the people of Sumba, horses are more than just animals; they are cherished companions and vital to their way of life. They assist in daily tasks, from agriculture to transportation.

One of the most striking features of Sumba Island, as highlighted in Kaess’s series, is its traditional huts, known locally as “uma.” These huts are architectural marvels with their towering, conical roofs that seem to reach for the sky. These peculiar roof shapes are not merely aesthetic; they hold deep cultural significance. They are designed to honor the Marapu belief system, which venerates ancestral spirits. The high peaks of the roofs are thought to connect the earthly world with the spiritual realm, embodying a harmonious blend of functionality and symbolism.


Through his poetic reportage, Cornelius Kaess not only documents but celebrates the daily life on Sumba Island. His photographs are a tribute to the resilience, warmth, and spirit of its people.

Cornelius Kaess

German photographer, currently based in Paris.


His work has been published in magazines like Vogue Magazine, M le magazine du Monde, Financial Times, T mag, Porter mag, The Telegraph, CAP74024, Beauty Papers, Port, etc.


His clients include Theory, Isabel Marant, Lancel, Fursac, Armani, Net a Porter, Clinique, Costa Brazil, BA&SH, Aigle, Marriot, etc.