Geoffrey Hiller on the Recent Violence in Myanmar March 25, 2013Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Burma, Myanmar.
Tags: Burma, Myanmar
Editor’s note: In light of last week’s tragic events in Meiktila, Myanmar I’m posting a report from my visit there last month. All photographs by Geoffrey Hiller.
College graduates leaving a beauty salon
About the Photographs:
Last month while in Myanmar I spent a few days in the town of Meiktila, in the center of the country between Naypyidaw and Mandalay. The bus from Taungoo was packed with people and chickens and bales of bamboo, and stopped every couple minutes to pick up more passengers. The distance was 150 miles but the trip took eight hours. I had called the day before to reserve a room at the main hotel but was told it was fully booked. I didn’t want to return to Yangon or go on to Mandalay, so I went to Meiktila any way. Sure enough, plenty of rooms were available.
The bus dropped me off in the Muslim part of town near a large mosque, across from a tea shop where a man was baking nan in a fiery clay oven. I took a motorcycle-taxi to the hotel, had dinner and walked around the neighborhood to get oriented my first night. After the bustle of Yangon, the small-town atmosphere was welcoming. Shop owners relaxed outside on tree-lined streets, chatting with each other.
Aung San Suu Kyi and her former husband Michael Aris visited Meiktila on their honeymoon in 1972. It’s a pleasant town on a lake as big as Inle Lake. An English-style clock tower looms over the center of town. In my three days there the only other foreigner I met was a middle-aged man from Russia who spoke to me in Spanish.
The next day I visited one of the mosques on the other side of the railway tracks near my hotel. It was Friday afternoon, the Muslim sabbath, and was filled with men attending early afternoon Namaz service. After prayers they met in the front hall to socialize. One of them offered me bananas. Down the street there was an Indian grocery store run by Sikhs who had immigrated to Burma after the British left. I couldn’t help but notice the brisk business they were doing with a diversity of customers, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim.
I began my day at the Golden Rain Tea Shop, which was on a leafy street alongside three other large cafes. I noticed a brightly lit shop that turned out to be a beauty salon. It was graduation season and everywhere in Meiktila exquisitely dressed young women were getting ready for their commencement ceremonies. Photo studios were doing a brisk business. The graduates had majored in subjects such as electrical engineering and botany. It was doubtful that they would find work in those fields, but they were still hopeful.
In one salon owned by a group of gay men from Mandalay, a bride had just had her hair styled and was waiting for the groom to arrive.
Later in the day I photographed young girls breaking rocks by hand and paving the road. This was the norm for most, who had to leave school after a few years to do manual labor or housework or sell vegetables at the market. It reminded me of how little things have changed in Burma for centuries.
Buddhist monk collecting donations
One month after I left, the media reported that fighting erupted after an argument between a Buddhist couple and Muslim owners of a gold shop. After my experience in this peaceful town, the news reports about the fighting and killing and burning of homes is unbelievable to me. I had talked with dozens of residents of Meiktila, both Buddhists and Muslims, and I never would have guessed such violence would erupt. On my last day in Meiktila I waited for the night bus to Yangon at the Asia World stop, at a Shophouse where an extended Muslim family lived. The bus from Mandalay was two hours late but the father invited me in and offered me grapes. He showed me the rows of family photographs that covered the walls. As I follow the news, I fear for him and all his family who treated a stranger with such kindness.
An eery thing that I noticed after the bus picked me up was that an elderly monk who was sitting in the front got angry and started banging his plastic water bottle on the seat. The man next to me said that the bus had broken down before and the monk was frustrated because of the delay. This scene was uncharacteristic for the Burmese, and particularly a Buddhist monk. Now I wonder if it foreshadowed the shocking events to come.
James Mackay April 5, 2012Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Burma, Myanmar.
Tags: Burma, Myanmar
“Generation Wave” outside Insein Prison. Rangoon. Burma 2012
James Mackay (b.1970 England) is a documentary photographer based in South East Asia and the UK. He studied at Central St Martin’s College of Art & Design in London and has worked extensively, often undercover, in Burma documenting humanitarian and political issues in the military controlled country. His long-term project on Burma’s political prisoners was selected as part of the Open Society Foundation’s ‘Moving Walls 19’ and has recently been published as a book ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’. His work has published in: The New York Times, The Independent, The Guardian, Le Monde, Vogue UK and Vogue Japan as well as by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. He is currently working in Burma as the country goes through historic political change.
About the Photograph:
“This photograph was taken outside the notorious Insein prison in Rangoon early in the morning of Friday 13th January 2012, Wearing t-shirts demanding the release of political prisoners, members (and colleagues of mine) of the once outlawed student organization, ‘Generation Wave’, line up waiting in anticipation for the release of said political prisoners, including more than 14 from their group jailed for their political activities. In a country where for decades most people have lived a life of fear, too afraid to speak out and where thousands have been jailed for their political beliefs, euphoria erupted in Rangoon on that historic day as prominent opposition leaders and political dissidents including the famed ‘88 Generation Students’ were freed from prison under a presidential amnesty.” (more…)
Geoffrey Hiller- Burma Update January 30, 2012Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Burma, Myanmar.
Tags: Burma, Myanmar
Moulamain, Burma 2012
Editors Note: I’ll be in Burma till Feb 11th covering events as the country continues to evolve on a daily basis. This is my fifth visit to Burma and it’s day and night compared to six short months ago. There is a good chance I’ll be here longer. Photo-editors can contact me through my website.
Chien-Chi Chang October 29, 2011Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Burma, Myanmar.
Tags: Burma, Myanmar
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Burma, Land of Shadows: A production of Magnum in Motion with photographs and video by Chien-Chi Chang.
“The Burmese continue to live a real-life version of Animal Farm. When I posed as a tourist to make these pictures, there always seemed to be shadows following me. Big Brother has many little brothers.”
Chien-Chi Chang (b.1961, Taiwan) earned his BA from Soochow University in 1984 and an MS from Indiana University in 1990. He has worked for The Seattle Times (1991-1993) and The Baltimore Sun (1994-1995). Chang has documented the life of illegal immigrants in New York’s Chinatown, but he is also known for documenting his homeland of Taiwan. He won the W. Eugene Smith Fund for Humanistic Photography in 1999. He lives in Taipei and in New York City and is a member of Magnum Photos
Geoffrey Hiller August 19, 2011Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Burma, Myanmar.
Tags: Buddhism, Burma, Myanmar
Shwe In Bin Kyaung Monastery. Mandalay, Burma 2011
Editor’s Note: I’ll be taking off two weeks from Verve Photo. One of my prints is currently available on collect.give , a brilliant site founded by Kevin Miyazaki. It’s a place to collect contemporary photography and donate to worthy causes at the same time. I’ve pledged to donate 100% of the profits from my print sales to 100 Friends.org. Your fifty dollars goes to health and education projects in Burma/Myanmar. I recently returned from there and can personally vouch for the work that 100 Friends carries out.
About the Photograph:
“I made this image during one of my early morning walks in Mandalay, known for its large number of Buddhist monasteries. Entering the grounds of Shwe In Bin Kyaung you feel as though you are crossing an imaginary line where the noise and chaos of the city disappear. The monks and novices wake up at 4 am to begin meditation and study. Besides their spiritual practice, the monks provide after-school classes, take in orphans, and do other social outreach in a country where the government provides no safety net for the poor. The monks serve as the conscience of the nation, since they are present everywhere, and are often at the forefront of political protest in Burma.”
The photography of Geoffrey Hiller has been published in magazines in the USA, Europe, and Japan including Geo, Newsweek, Mother Jones and the New York Times Magazine. He has completed dozens of photo essays in Asia, Latin America, Europe and West Africa and was on the staff of the Brazilian edition of National Geographic for two years. His award-winning multimedia projects about Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Ghana, Burma, and Brazil have earned recognition from Adobe, The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today. He has received grants from the Paul Allen Foundation, the California Arts Council, Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, Oregon, among others. Geoffrey was awarded a Fulbright scholarship in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2008-2009.