Norway Day 2: Plans underway for 2010

It has snowed. The Secretary General is happy with this. A good start to the day.

Oslo is a beautiful city and I’m only sorry that we don’t have enough time to enjoy it properly – perched on the edge of the fjord with beautifully scenic countryside around, it’s a very long way from the madness and mayhem of London or New York… and about 6 million people fewer too! Aside from the cold it’s the light thats going to be a major issue on this trip – or rather the lack of it. There’s only really a handful of daylight hours at best and with snow clouds overhead it’s even darker so it’s more than likely that most of the portraits shot this time will have to be indoors. This is not ideal as I’m choosing not to work with a mobile studio of lights and umbrellas etc and so is more challenging that I have to work with what’s available in the person’s house or at the location that we are at, but that’s documentary photography for you and that’s what this is… a reality.

So it’s back to DVB for the day to plan the next few days ahead and contact former political prisoners in Gjovik and Lillehammer – two cities a few hours north of Oslo and easily reachable by train or bus. The Secretary General @ Jacquelin San has her work cut out today ringing around Norway. We carry on filming the documentary with Than Win Thut and make plans for a studio interview that they want to do next week when we’re back from Lillehammer. Another main reason for being at DVB today is for a meeting we have to photograph Myo Min Naing, former political prisoner and now working at DVB. Myo Min Naing spent 11 years in jail at Insein, Tharawaddy and Myingyan prisons. Like so many he escaped to Thailand to be able to continue his activities and is now the man in charge of DVBs reporters inside Burma. These undercover reporters are the men and women who keep the world up to date with images and video secretly smuggled out of Burma to the world’s media… but at great personal risk and currently one of their cameramen ‘T’ (winner of the Rory Peck Award with his colleague ‘Z’) faces up to 15 years in jail as he was arrested by the military four months ago. Khin Maung Win, Deputy Executive Director of DVB joins us as we spend most of our time discussing plans and what might happen next year which naturally can’t be discussed here on this blog… it’s unlikely Than Shwe reads this but you never know (you can check back here for full details when the time is right to announce them).

The hardest thing is not just getting in touch with people and then trying to explain the idea, but actually finding enough time to spend with everyone. There is so much to hear from every single former political prisoner that I meet. Stories that have you spellbound in so many different ways. But there is never enough time to hear them all and unfortunately this is too often the case – especially as much of the time we have to catch up with people during their working day.

The travel plans are starting to look good for the next few days and we head off from DVB late in the afternoon to meet up with Moe Maung Maung at Central Station – he has kindly asked us to stay with him and his wife… everywhere we go and everyone we meet we are welcomed with this typical gesture of warmth and kindness. I only hope that one day I can repay it to everyone of them and their colleagues in prison. The filming continues as we make our way from the DVB office to Central Station and meet up with Moe Maung Maung. He lives to the western suburbs of central Oslo and has the most stunning view over the city from his apartment.

Moe Maung Maung had been involved in the democracy uprisings in 1988 as one of the leaders of the Rangoon Arts & Science University Movement and was detained several times in 1988, 1989 and 1990. On 20th February 1995 he was arrested for his leading role in a student march at the funeral of the former prime minister U Nu. Along with 50 of his colleagues (including Moe Myat Thu & Yee Yee Htun both already photographed for this campaign) he was detained in interrogation centres and then sentenced to 7 years in prison under 5J for “Agitating the people” against the military regime. He spent 6 years in Insein and Taungoo Prison. He fled Burma with his young family in 2002 and settled in Norway in 2005. He continues to work tirelessly for the democracy movement, like so many mainly through the underground network that they were once part of inside the country and now still continue to be part of despite their new life in the outside world.

We spend the most wonderful evening with Moe Maung Maung and his wife – we get the portrait done despite a serious lack of light which was of real concern at one point but a reflector and a little thought has hopefully produced a really strong shot… and the help of the Secretary General of course! You can catch the whole process in the DVB documentary when its released – it’ll be posted on this blog when available. The rest of the evening is spent listening to stories and discussing political prisoners and looking at old photos including so many of 88 Generation Students and Saffron Revolution that won’t have been seen. Whisky and Burmese food of course makes up the rest of the evening and sets us up nicely for the trip ahead to Gjovik early tomorrow morning.

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