After thirty-six hours of airplanes and airports, and sixteen hours of sleep, I’m sitting on my balcony with a coffee while welcome swallows and noisy miners swoop around my head. My ears are ringing with the screech of lorikeets and rosellas as they jockey for position in our trees, and light is falling on the estuary as the pelicans glide in for graceful landings.
It is nice to be home, but my head is still swirling full of images of monks and temples, stilted houses and leg-rowing fishermen. I’ve just had the privilege of spending two weeks in a different time and place: in Myanmar, a magical land poised on the brink of change. I’ve come home with full CompactFlash cards, a full hard drive, and a full brain; it will take me ages to sort through the images and impressions.
Where to start?
With the golden beauty of Schwedegon Pagoda? The iconic wooden U Bein Bridge? The confusion and noise of colourful markets? The profusion of purple-robed monks or pink-clad nuns? The mystic calm of the Began stupas? The balletic-grace of Inlay Lake’s leg-rowing fishermen? The shy smiles of the people everywhere?
In the end, I’ve decided to leave the more “iconic” images for later, and to start at the end: with the oppressively hot, crowded and chaotic Yangon ring-train, where the dusty darkness inside the old carriages contrasts with the blinding light outside, where the fragrance of fresh flowers alternates with the stench of dirty refuse, and where the press of people transporting themselves and their belongings or wares around the rails of Yangon provide a microcosmic view of the country as a whole.
I was travelling with photojournalist and phototour-workshop leader Karl Grobl, his trusty Myanmar “fixer” and guide, Mr. MM, and nine other intrepid culture and photography enthusiasts. For two weeks we’d been touring around this amazing country, treated to local sounds and sights, tastes and smells; searching for “the” iconic Burmese image – all while fiddling with ISO settings, f-stops and exposure compensations. The Ring Train was our last stop and ultimate test: to find subjects in the dark and crowded carriages; to find light where there wasn’t any; to manage exposures in rapidly changing conditions – in short, to make pictures in a nigh on impossible situation.
Most of the the pictures I attempted that day will never see the light of day, but I found a few that I think give us a glimpse into everyday Burmese life.
Like I said, just a glimpse into the colour and magic that is Myanmar; I can only hope it retains what is good and innocent as it is thrust, with the opening of it’s borders, into the future.
I will get back to the more “classic” images soon – in the meantime, I wish you Happy Travels!
Photos taken: 24September2012