Signing in the New Arrivals

With no end in sight to the recent horrific flooding in Thailand, and in particular for me in Bangkok, the book seemed destined to be delayed by the deluge of water that seemed never ending. But somehow the first batch managed to make it out in between low and high tide and arrived just in time for me to despatch the first few copies before heading over another large expanse of water to the USA. Signing my first book was a novel experience and provided much entertainment, but was a great pleasure and honour to do so for a good friend and someone who works so hard for Prisoners of Conscience in Burma and around the world. The Prisoners of Conscience Appeal Fund provides grants for relief and rehabilitation to people who have been persecuted, imprisoned and tortured for their conscientiously-held beliefs. The assistance they provide is vital and the small team who work there lead by Lynn Carter work valiantly for political prisoners, human rights defenders, lawyers, environmental activists, teachers and academics who come from many different countries such as Burma, Zimbabwe, Sri Lanka, Tibet, Iran, Cameroon and Eritrea.

Signing my life away…

After a nice cup of afternoon tea (when in Rome as they say…) there was just about time to deliver the final copy to my friends at Bayeux in London’s Soho,who have provided so much help and support over the years and are mighty fine printers to boot. So a huge thanks must go to Terry, Rick, Julie, Iris and all the team – not just for printing the recent 5ft prints that are on their way to New York for the OSI Moving Walls exhibition opening on the 30th, but for featuring the work in the windows and on display inside the reception area – cheers guys for all the hard work and support over the years.

A Bayeux Tapestry to be proud of.

Even Rhianna can’t keep her eyes off it.

Hopefully not long now until books can start hitting the shelves and I see Amazon already have it on special offer so get your copies now for a few dollars less, although think I might have to have words with my co-author about this at the weekend. With imminent exhibitions and book launches in Bangkok and New York in a couple of weeks time, it might just be somewhere closer to home where the book actually gets its first public viewing… surely not Rangoon I hear you say… That would be ridiculous…

Wouldn’t it just.

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Not Forgotten: Tim Hetherington, His Life & His Work

A moving short film, courtesy of Realscreen Magazine, about photojournalism and film-maker, Tim Hetherington. In April 2011, whilst covering the fall of Misrata, he was sadly killed by a mortar attack along with his colleague Chris Hondros. Over a 10 year career, his incredible work brought home the reality of the true horrors this world has to offer. He not only covered such dramatic front-line stories as Liberia and Afghanistan, but also completely transcended the conventional boundaries of image-making to become one of the luminaries of his profession.

Abhaya Preview as Advance Copies Arrive

At the weekend we managed to get our hands on an advance copy of the book and here are is a sneak preview of a few pages, including from inside Burma, to give you some idea of what’s inside… 224 pages, 244 portraits and background information, foreword by Aung San Suu Kyi, statements from AAPP and Human Rights Watch… and available for pre-order now on Amazon before it’s worldwide release in 3 weeks time. I think what I’m really looking forward to most is reaction and reviews – whether good or bad, it will just be good to finally see the work out there for all to make up their own mind.

Next stop London, New York and Bangkok, but will they all be released before the book? Here’s hoping so…

CNN Slideshow of ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’

CNN anchor, Kristie Lu Stout, presents a slideshow of ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’ on the primetime daily show, News Stream, on the day that 227 political prisoners were released from jail in Burma. Topping the headline news makes a welcome change for Burma and one we could relish as well with our work on display to millions across the world enjoying their breakfast in America, afternoon tea in the UK or evening noodles in Asia. The early morning call from Hong Kong lead to a crazy day dashing across London as slowly, one by one, political prisoners were being released. Being stuck in Europe on this of all days was not ideal considering the time difference and logistical difficulties trying to get updates using Skype and G-talk whilst constantly on the move, but luckily I managed to find a quiet room at Getty Images to do the voice over that took more attempts at trying to get a clear line than it does when trying to call into Burma. A moment in the spotlight for this work and Burma, despite the end result seeing fewer released than expected. Hopefully there is more to come as the countdown to the book being launched in Rangoon in mid-November draws ever closer.

Burma’s Voices at the Asia Society New York

Last week the Asia Society in New York played host to an evening of readings from the acclaimed book “Nowhere to be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime” by Maggie Lemerre and Zoe West. The event was produced by PEN, Open Society Institute and the Magnum Foundation and featured a multimedia slideshow of work from “Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness” alongside esteemed Magnum photographers Chien Chi Chang and the legendary Lu Nan.

Unfortunately I couldn’t make it to New York – that trip will have to wait a few more weeks until the opening of the Moving Walls exhibition in late November – but it’s always nice to see things turn out well and thanks to my friends Ma Su Mon and Ko Zaw Win for the photo below.

The Waiting is Over. Now The Games Can Commence.

Finding myself on a European timezone was not ideal with the long expected prisoner amnesty about to unfold. The first phone call of the day was at 4:00am and a long day ensued. It’s hard enough getting verified information out of Burma at the best of times, but in times like these it can become chaotic almost instantaneously as thousands turn to Twitter and other social networks, making announcements and forwarding third hand information that creates hysteria one minute and heartbreak the next. With reporters stationed at most of the key prisons across Burma, the exiled media and underground reporters, as well as citizen journalists, played their role in breaking the news live and with DVB’s rolling live updates for once it felt Burma was not a million miles away. An unexpected call from CNN in Hong Kong woke me from my early morning slumber as Zarganar was walking through the gates of Mytikyina prison and a request to be interviewed and show our work on the main network news at 08:00 Eastern USA time. The Guardian centrefold had got round the world quickly and brought with it more requests to show the photographs and give analysis and opinion as hopes of real reform in Burma started to fade once more. From Hong Kong to Bush House in 10 minutes flat and we just made the BBC World Service in time, but as the Norwegian Foreign Minister was starting to exaggerate the change underway the presenters cut short what was about to turn into a fully heated debate.

This time expectations were higher than before, but caution was key, as before too long it became clear that this would be just another game of smoke and mirrors, once more played out to make a mockery of the watching world. Zarganar was freed early on as was expected, soon followed by a host of political prisoners who had suffered illness or had been jailed for many years – Nyi Nyi Oo would finally taste freedom after 23 years jailed for being framed for a bombing incident that the KNU would later admit to. U Than Lwin and U Kyaw Khin, two former NLD  MPs elected in 1990, walked free but left behind 10 more who are still incarcerated. Rumours from Reuters soon had the world believing Ashin Gambira was free, but alas it would be the closest we would come to seeing any of the more prominent dissidents and opponents to this tyrannic regime be released from their dark cells. I expected 400 to be released, as had been widely touted by many. I hoped that the 88 Generation Students would be among them, but only hoped with no real expectation. My friend Andrew Buncombe, South-East Asia correspondent for The Independent was texting me from Bodh Gya in India, where Thein Sein was seeking enlightenment and doing his best to dodge Andrew’s questions.

Montage of Burma’s political prisoners taken from the forthcoming book ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’

This prisoner amnesty has been expected for some time and now that it has been and gone and the dust starts to settle. it’s time to take stock, a step back and wonder what cards the Generals and the democracy movement will play next. Rightly so, Burma’s so-called civilian government must face worldwide condemnation for this farcical amnesty and in no way must any form of concessions be given away in regards to sanctions or deals of any other kind from the IMF and World Bank. But I do not believe this is the last that we will see. I think that this could be the first part of Thein Sein’s plans as he tests the water to see just how much he has to give away to get what he wants. I strongly believe that, as in 2004, we will see further releases of political prisoners over the coming months and hopefully culminating with the release of the 88 Generation Students and other key protaganists who must be free to shape Burma’s future including ethnic leaders and more than 250 members of the NLD who still remain behind bars. Despite the joy that must be acknowledged in seeing 220 political prisoners walk free, I am deeply dissatisfied with the 24 hours that have passed. But I retain hope and the belief that there is more to come.

Burma’s Political Prisoners book: ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’ with foreword by Aung San Suu Kyi

After 3 long years of  hard work and over 100,000 miles travelled, finally the book of our long term project documenting Burma’s political prisoners will be published in November 2011 by River Books. Hopefully all political prisoners will also be released by then as well.

Featuring a foreword written by Aung San Suu Kyi and portraits of more than 250 former political prisoners in exile around the world (as well as over 50 from inside Burma, including leaders of the National League for Democracy), ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’ captures a moment in time in Burma’s history, dated October 2011, with more than 2,000 political prisoners incarcerated.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

The Abhaya mudrā (“mudrā of fear-not”) represents protection, peace and the dispelling of fear.

In 1962 a military coup lead by General Ne Win saw Burma, an isolated Buddhist country in South-East Asia, come under the power of one of the world’s most brutal regimes. For the past five decades, thousands of people have been arrested, tortured and given long prison sentences for openly expressing their beliefs and for daring to defy dictators who tolerate no form of dissent or opposition to their rule.

Today, more than 2,000 political prisoners including monks, students, journalists, lawyers, elected Members of Parliament and over 300 members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, The National League for Democracy, are incarcerated in Burma’s notorious prisons.

In Burma and across the world, almost 300 hundred former political prisoners have come together to raise awareness of the tragic plight of their colleagues still detained in jail. Photographed standing with their right hand raised, palm out-turned facing the camera, the name of a current political prisoner is shown written on their hand. The sacred Buddhist gesture of Abhaya, “Fear Not”, is not only an act of silent protest, but also one of remembrance and fearlessness.

“The people featured in this book have all had to learn to face their fears squarely during the decades they have passed in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. Their commitment has been their courage. It is important that they and what they stand for should not be forgotten, that their sufferings as well as their aspirations should be remembered.”

“I hope that all who read this book will be encouraged to do everything they can to gain the freedom of political prisoners in Burma and to create a world where there are no political prisoners” Aung San Suu Kyi

View the project in its entirety at www.enigmaimages.net

 

 

Nowhere to be Home in New York City

The first of a succession of events that I’m involved in as 2011 draws to a close kicks off in New York on October 11th with the Asia Society, PEN America Center, Open Society Foundations, Voice of Witness and the Magnum Foundation presenting “Voices of Burma”, an evening of readings from the acclaimed book ‘Nowhere to be Home: Narratives from Survivors of Burma’s Military Regime’ by Maggie Lemerre and Zoe West.

Having now become an OSI Moving Walls photographer I find myself and my work in highly esteemed company along side Magnum photographers Chien Chi Chang and the legendary Lu Nan whose work inside Burma’s prisons is remarkable. I hope to be there next week to enjoy the evening but the clock is very quickly ticking on finishing the book and it’s hours to go before it gets sent to the printers… more about that later…

Blondie And The Secret Garden in England

A break from the usual Burma news on this site (thats more of how it’ll be from now on) and also finally a few days to take a break from pre-production of the book and the two exhibitions and head off into the English countryside with friends for the Secret Garden Music Festival. Reminiscing over my favourite act of all time headlining – Leftfield – bringing back memories of the music videos and album I was involved in plus deafening nights at Brixton Academy. Backing up in support were the iconic and still superb Blondie, one of the first bands I remember listening to (just!). Brilliant weekend and coming just at the right time to remind me of the other world there is out there… now it’s time to get back to writing those chapters!

More photos of Blondie in action here

The iconic Debbie Harry and Blondie perform at Secret Garden Music Festival

Burma Selected for OSI Moving Walls 19

The Open Society Institute has selected my long term project for Burma’s political prisoners ‘Even Though I’m Free I Am Not‘ to be part of the prestigious Moving Walls exhibition programme. The exhibition opens in New York with a reception on November 30th and lasts for 9 months before moving to Washington DC for a further 9 months. With 400 applications submitted, being selected as one of seven photographers to be part of this programme is humbling to say the least. Also with my work being shown in the main reception area, it’s a massive honour for me and for everyone involved in this work over the past 3 years and is of course very exciting, but most importantly it gives the issue of Burma’s political prisoners another platform and hopefully valuable exposure –  there will be an exclusive first showing of a number of former political prisoners from inside Burma who we have been waiting for the right time to show to the world. This is that time.

CLICK HERE for full details on the OSI website

This is without doubt one of the biggest recognitions possible for this work. To me it’s like winning an ‘Oscar’ especially when I look at all the names of those whose work has been chosen for this exhibition programme since it’s inception in 1998 including the likes of Tim Hetherington, Marcus Bleasdale, Eugene Richards, Steve McCurry, Larry Towell, Lynsey Addario, Stefano de Luigi, Ami Vitale, Ed Kashi… the list is endless. It’s astonishing and I am totally humbled. From the OSI website:

‘Moving Walls represents the transitional condition of open societies and the promotion and maintenance of democratic values. It recognises the brave and difficult work that photographers undertake globally in their documentation of complex social and political issues. Their images provide the world with human rights evidence, put faces onto a conflict, document the struggles and defiance of marginalized people, reframe how issues are discussed publicly, and provide opportunities for reflection and discussion. Through Moving Walls, the Open Society Foundations honor this work while visually highlighting the mission of our foundation to staff and visitors.’