Abhaya Burma’s Fearlessness – Bangkok Exhibition

Last week saw the opening of the exhibition and also the official book launch, held at the beautiful Serindia Gallery in Bangkok in association with River Books and the Canadian Embassy. Unfortunately we could not be there as we are in New York for the opening of the OSI moving Walls 19 exhibition, but by all accounts it was a great evening and a successful one too, in that no fewer than 8 Ambassadors attended the event along with various other diplomats and movers and shakers. The idea of course is to drum home the issue that 1700 still remain in jail and must be freed if Burma is to truly move forward. With these kind of people attending the event and taking copies of the book then hopefully that message can continue to resonate in the halls of power and the risks that some have taken to be in this work do not go unheeded.

Here are a couple of reviews of the evening courtesy of The Irrawaddy team and RFA who filmed the two short pieces below and also a review in The Nation. Thanks to the Irrawaddy team, RFA, U Zin Linn and Soe Aung and of course to Shane and his staff at Serindia, Narisa and to Mr Ron Hoffman the Canadian Ambassador.

‘Birmans en Dissidence’ – Le Monde

A first for France as this saturday’s ‘Le Portfolio’ section in ‘Le Magazine du Monde’ features an 8 page article previewing the book and the issue of Burma’s political prisoners.

Click this link to read the full article – Birmans en Dissidence

‘Portraits of Fearlessness’ The Bangkok Post

With the exhibition and book launch tomorrow evening (Thursday 24th) at the Serindia Gallery, the Bangkok Post ‘Life’ section features a cover feature of ‘Abhaya’ plus an interview with gallery owner Shane Suvikapakornul.

Read the full article here – Portraits of Fearlessness

Faces Without Fear

A nervous wait has thankfully ended, as not only did the floods keep books from getting in to the hands of those who have ‘roles to play’, so to speak, but also from the hands of those passing judgement. On the eve of the book launch and exhibition opening in Bangkok tomorrow at Serindia Gallery, the first review can be read here online at the Irrawaddy. Thanks to David and everyone at Irrawaddy for a great review and it’s pleasing to see my hopes for the book be understood and recognised. There’s bound to be some who have more critical viewpoints, but I welcome those thoughts with open arms too!

Power Through A Lens – Interview with DVB

With rumours of the latest prisoner amnesty circulating like wildfire once more and the book getting its first airing in public (full details and photos to follow very soon I hope!) here’s a recent interview with Francis Wade from DVB about political prisoners and photographing in the pariah state:

Click to read the interview – Power Through A Lens

Portrait of The Lady – VOGUE UK

One year on from her release from house arrest and The Lady once more appears across the pages of VOGUE magazine with her own indomitable style and grace. At the start of the year we had an appearance in VOGUE Japan but this time it’s the turn of VOGUE UK, and the December issue out now, that my picture of Aung San Suu Kyi and Tai-Chi-Toe feature in accompanying an article written by Rebecca Frayn (screenwriter) about the forthcoming Luc Besson film “The Lady”. Back in September, Jackie and I were kindly invited to a private screening of the film with a few other close friends and with mixed emotions and opinions I think regardless of what criticism it may draw, the film will be enjoyed by many, especially amongst Burmese who rightly so hold such affection for the revered Lady of Burma. It is an almost impossible task to try to tell even a small part of the story of Aung San Suu Kyi’s life and heroic struggle at all , let alone in under two hours. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the film currently comes in at at near to 2:20 (but is being cut) and although long and at times liberal with its historic detail, in no doubt at times a necessity to appeal to the great unthinking masses, it has its moments of emotion that hit home despite some rather ordinary acting and often trying storytelling. A story that is packed with heart wrenching emotion and drama I felt was unfortunately often not transferred to the silver screen. David Thewlis is superb as Dr Michael Aris and Michelle Yeoh gives a fine performance as The Lady, but despite what I felt the film lacked in its storytelling and sense of drama, some of the scenes and sets are superb, especially the replica house at 54 University Avenue. For those of us fortunate enough to be close enough to Burma and its history, we are of course the hardest critics to please if one focuses solely on history and detail within the film. Accepting that it is ‘based on a true-story’ one has to look past ones own personal knowledge, thoughts and beliefs and see it for the film that it is, if not the film that one may want it to be. Anyway, my thoughts and rambling ones at that and I truly hope that the film is enjoyed and receives the plaudits it deserves for trying alone where no-one else has dared try before.

Read the article  here – Portrait of the Lady

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.

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.

A Centrefold Premiere In The Guardian

On the day the Burmese regime finally announce the long expected prisoner amnesty, the Guardian newspaper pull out all the stops and go big for a double page centre spread on the former political prisoners from this project that is now better known as the book ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’. There is also a beautiful online slideshow gallery that can be viewed on the Guardian website with a premiere showing of the Lady’s portrait and others from inside Burma including U Tin Oo and Dr Daw May Win Myint.

See the full size article here – Guardian Eyewitness: Abhaya Burma’s Fearlessness

Today is also the day that the book gets launched at the Frankfurt book-fair. It’s been a busy day all round but nothing has been achieved yet. Here’s hoping that later on today there will be good news and we can finally start celebrating the release of political prisoners… and everything else as well.

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…