Thailand Day 5: A week of research and development…

After a hugely busy but successful day yesterday its going to be a full week in the office this week at AAPP to start editing more than 600 photos from yesterday plus researching and planning the rest of this trip. Possibly the most welcoming place in the world to work, it’s easy to forget the horrors we’re all dealing with and have been faced by those who work here, when you look around at all the welcoming faces and relaxed nature of everyone who works in the office… as well as those of the constant stream of colleagues, associates and other activists who constantly pass by. The AAPP was founded on 23 March 2000, the 11th anniversary of the arrest of 1988 student leader Min Ko Naing. It’s an independent, non-profit organization who’s joint secretaries Ko Bo Kyi and Ko Tate Naing along with their staff and all it’s members are all former political prisoners themselves. This gives them an extensive understanding on all aspects of political imprisonment in Burma like no other and like many other human rights organisations working both inside and outside Burma the risks of attack or some form of reprisal by agents of the Burmese military regime are always there. This is a place like no other. A secluded house in the shade of coconut trees in the back streets of Mae Sot, where life is work is life. It is an honour to be able to work here. As this project has developed and my involvement with all things political prisoners has grown, it’s even more of an honour to count these men and women as more than just colleagues. The ever welcoming smiles each day of Ko Bo Kyi, Tate Naing, Thaw Tun Oo, Ko Htay Aung, U Thet Oo, Aung Kyaw Oo, Aung Myo Thein and others, hide the shocking realities they all experienced in prison in Burma. But it’s exactly that point that I want to capture in this project, to stress in any writing in a book (if that happens). It’s this incredible strength of character of these people that I want to portray – despite everything that the military regime could throw at them; harrassment, surveillance; imprisonment; torture; persistent persecution on every level and at every turn; you name it they have suffered it, but it has not broken them. And it never will. You could be excused for being bitter and want revenge for suffering such injustices, but that’s not on anyones agenda – and that is what I mean when I talk about this strength of character. The end game is to release all political prisoners, to achieve freedom of speech and democracy in Burma. Whatever it takes and whatever must be suffered to achieve it is what will happen.

To have been given their trust to undertake this long journey is extremely special. I only hope that it will bring something at the end of it.

Thailand Day 4: Mae Sot, The first day of shooting

The first day’s shoot on the start of the long journey that will take in four continents and likely up to two years plus to complete took place at the headquarters of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma) AAPP in Mae Sot. More than 30 former political prisoners kicked off the project in style – an unbelievable start in the quest to photograph more than 300 in order to complete the project. It was more than I could ever have Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (Burma)expected and caught be unaware as well as wishing I had someone else to help me so I could spend time with everyone rather than just be taking photos. In a way it was a real missed opportunity to interview people, to take some video footage, but then again it didn’t really matter. It finally hit me that this is really just the start of it and potentially the start of something big. To be in the company of 30+ former political prisoners all enjoying themselves in being part of this, but more importantly doing it because they believe in it. This was the biggest buzz yet. It didn’t matter about missed opportunities to talk to anyone here for after all there will be another time – I will be spending much of my time over the next few years becoming as close to the lives of these men and women as I possibly can.

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Thailand Day 2: Mae Sot

Touchdown in the early hours in Mae Sot after the usual frozen experience on the night bus from Bangkok with antarctic temperature air conditioning as always. The wet season is in full swing and its humid. Head straight to the office to catch up with everyone at AAPP and start the planning. It’s great to be back and finally get this show completely on the road. This is the start of potentially a lifetime’s journey that will take in Thailand, Japan, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, India, Singapore… and Burma itself. The end date is when all Burma’s political prisoners are freed – unconditionally. The idea?… simple… photograph former political prisoners from all over the world and on their hand is written the name of an existing political prisoner. A global campaign in the making to bring this injustice into the living rooms of everyone, everywhere. Even though I’m free I am not.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserve