USA Day 3: Meeting An Icon. Yoko Ono

After Saturday’s full schedule and a day off yesterday to take in some sights and see friends, today is the day I have been waiting for. There was always another motive for making the trip to New York. Not really an ulterior motive, more an essential one, maybe just for me on a personal level I guess. Naturally, meeting the former political prisoners was the major issue in planning any trip, but before committing to coming to New York there was always one person I was waiting on. Today, after over a year of waiting, the day has finally come.

I first wrote to a number of what you might call ‘A-list’ celebrities back in 2009 when this project first got off the ground. I was selective in who I approached both as people I would like to meet because of who they are and in what they do for Burma and Human Rights (George Clooney was one of them and although I never heard back from him it was a nice surprise to see the front cover of the book about his latest film “The American”directed by one of my hero’s Anton Corbijn… a beautiful portrait I’m sure you’ll agree). But it wasn’t until late October 2010, well over a year after my initial approach, that I suddenly received an email from Yoko Ono saying that she would like to be photographed by me for this project. I actually dropped my phone in shock when I read the email. I never once honestly expected anyone I had approached to ever to agree to be in this work, but personally, she was the one person I had really hoped who might just say yes.

Yoko Ono stands in solidarity with Aung San Suu Kyi

Of course there are many reasons why anyone would want to meet Yoko Ono. She is an artist, musician, author, leading peace activist and of course she is John Lennon’s wife. Who really wouldn’t want to sit down and have a cup of tea with her? The chance was simply too good to miss, she was someone who I would die to meet, so we dropped everything when she emailed me last wednesday and here we are now.
We headed down to Greenwich Village, with time for a relaxing coffee in this beautiful part of town before making our way to her gallery where we had arranged to meet. I have to say now that this is not the sort of work I am accustomed to at all – being far more comfortable working in the background out of sight and mind or clandestinely in Burma as is often the case. But despite this I think we managed ok and got a half decent shot, but the photo was really just the icing on the cake – the cake itself was of course just meeting Yoko Ono and talking with her. She is amazing, a wonderful, kind person and I never really doubted she would be. As soon as she walked in to the studio, we were greeted with a broad smile and as soon as she saw Jackie (on seeing she was Burmese) she went straight up to her and threw her arms around her. If it had been appropriate for us to cry tears of joy I think it might have happened. I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that she might have connected so much to what we are doing and to Burma in general. We chatted, smiled, laughed, took some photos and chatted some more… and more hugs all round of course.

When the time came to leave we made our way outside and said our goodbyes, huge thanks to Karla and everyone for making this happen. But as she drove off into the distance we only then noticed that looking down on us all from high up above was John Lennon, himself. If meeting and photographing Yoko Ono achieves nothing more than providing me with an immense personal moment in my life, then so be it. But at the same time rest assured, she is totally and utterly impassioned with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma’s political prisoners and the people of Burma as a whole. Her heart and soul are very, very much with you all.

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EXCLUSIVE: British Foreign Secretary Demands the Release of Burma’s Political Prisoners

British Foreign Secretary William Hague has taken the stand in solidarity with Burma’s political prisoners, demanding their immediate and unconditional release from prison. The British government has been vocal in condemning the forthcoming elections as a sham and in demanding the release of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners if there is to be any sense of national reconciliation in Burma – something he was keen to re-iterate.

British Foreign Secretary, William Hague MP

The name on his hand is Mya Aye, leader of the 88 Generation Students who is currently incarcerated in Taungyyi prison where he is suffering extreme ill health and is in urgent need of medical attention.

With just over two weeks to go until the election, we are keeping up the pressure not just on the regime, but also on EU and ASEAN governments who take a more soft approach with the SPDC. With most of the leading UK politicians photographed already, there is just one big name yet to some… come in number 10 – your time is up.

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EXCLUSIVE: British Deputy Prime Minister Stands With Burma’s Political Prisoners

An exclusive moment in this campaign as British Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats Nick Clegg turns up the pressure on the junta and stands in solidarity alongside the former political prisoners to demand the unconditional release of all Burma’s political prisoners. As the election draws ever nearer, on Monday 4th October along with Foreign minister Jeremy Browne, Nick Clegg will be attending the ASEM meeting where discussions on Burma will take place and the issue of political prisoners will be at the forefront of both of their minds. We also met with Jeremy Browne on Thursday last week just before he left where he reassured that the issue would be raised in earnest.

British Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg stands with Burma’s Political Prisoners

With many of the leading British politicians having taken action already including David Milliband amongst others, we wait to hear from David Cameron on when he will have time in his diary to join his parliamentary colleagues and take the stand for Burma’s political prisoners.

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Christopher Eccleston Stands Up For Burma

Christopher Eccleston, the English film, stage and television actor stands in solidarity with Burma’s political prisoners.

For Amnesty’s campaign using my work to raise awareness about Burma’s political prisoners they have been working hard to secure celebrities to be photographed and I was particularly pleased to meet Christopher Eccleston as he starred in one of my favourite films of all time “28 Days Later” and has just appeared on screens as one of my and no doubt your all time heroes, John Lennon, in “Lennon Naked“.

We met up in a private dining club in London’s Soho district back in August and it was great to be able to have time for a chat rather than just taking the portrait in few seconds before leaving. What a really great guy who was not just totally engaged in the idea of my work but more importantly in the issue of Burma’s political prisoners.

A huge thank you to Christopher Eccleston on behalf of Burma’s political prisoners.

Due to the way Amnesty International works with the celebrities it approaches (and the limited time celebrities have) they also get them to do other promotional work at the same time supporting other Amnesty campaigns or Amnesty in general including photographs with placards etc and so Amnesty use their own photographer. Unfortunately whilst it means I may not be able to photograph all these celebrities (I’m also often away as you can see) it’s just the way Amnesty work and it works with their campaign which is somewhat seperate to this long term documentary project that we are working on here with the political prisoners. This does however often leave me with the opportunity to discuss Burma and political prisoners with the celebrity when I am free to attend these shoots and that after all is more important than a photograph. The actual portrait of Christopher Eccleston was shot by Amnesty’s photographer Leo Cackett … or is that really me after all?

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Dr Sein Win, Burma’s Prime Minister-in-Exile, Stands in Solidarity with Political Prisoners

Burma’s Prime Minister-in-exile and Chairman of the NCGUB, (National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma), Dr Sein Win, joined the campaign adding his voice to thousands around the world standing in solidarity for Burma’s political prisoners.

Dr Sein Win, cousin of Aung San Suu Kyi, was born on the 16th of December 1944 in Taungdwingyi. His father was the elder brother of General Aung San and was part of the cabinet of Aung San – he was assassinated in 1947, together with Aung San and most members of the cabinet, just before Burma gained independence. After the 1988 uprisings, Dr Sein Win was the  Treasurer of the Information Department of the NLD and in charge of the Party for National Democracy (PND) and was elected Member of Parliament for Paukkhaung, Pegu Division. On 1st October 1990, in the aftermath of the election, a Special Leading Committee consisting of elected MPs and party members secretly met at a location on the Mandalay-Maymyo road and endorsed resolutions that were instrumental in the formation of a parallel government. Two elected representatives were sent to the Thai side to contact with the revolutionary forces and got their support. Several MPs headed by Dr. Sein Win left Burma for Manerplaw to form a government on the Thai-Burma border. The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma was officially formed in Manerplaw on 18 December 1990 with Dr Sein Win elected as Prime Minister.  One of the declared principles was that it would be dissolved once democracy and human rights are restored in Burma.

Dr Sein Win

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UK Politicians Stand in Unity for Burma’s Political Prisoners

With the British parliament about to go into it’s summer recess we managed to grab one last opportunity to hold an event in the House of Commons to bring the UK’s politicians attention to Burma’s political prisoners. Foreign Minister Jeremy Browne MP and Anne Clywd MP both spoke but as usual it was Waihnin Pwint Thon who stole the show with another enigmatic, powerful and emotional speech reinforcing not only what needs to be done by the politicians around us in the room but also the horrendous suffering of more than 2,100 political prisoners currently detained.

A number of leading UK politicians from both the House of Commons and the House of Lords joined in the campaign:

Anne Clywd MP

Lord Hylton

Madeleine Moon MP

Baroness D’Souza

Cathy Jamieson MP

Lord Dubs

Baroness Miller

Emma Reynolds MP

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EXCLUSIVE: David Miliband MP Stands in Solidarity with Burma’s Political Prisoners

British Shadow Foreign Secretary David Miliband MP has taken up the challenge from the Government (see Jeremy Browne’s portrait – ed) and continued his stance demanding the immediate and unconditional release of Burma’s political prisoners.

Shadow Foreign Secretary, David Miliband MP

Not only is he Shadow Foreign Secretary but also he is very likely to be the next leader of the labour party (and next prime minister sooner rather than later!). This time I got slightly longer than the 30 seconds I had with Jeremy Browne and so the shoot was great and he was very interested in the whole campaign. Thankfully he agreed to stand in the corridor outside his office and we got a great shot I think you’ll agree.

The importance of these photographs of these top politicians in the UK can’t be underestimated. This is not just another verbal statement that disappears off record no sooner than it is made. These portraits are more than just the usual statements of concern that are so routinely issued in time of need. These portraits go one step further – an unprecedented step further, whereby they are physically joining a campaign, standing alongside the very people who themselves have suffered at the hands of this brutal military regime.

Standing together we can and we will bring about change. Now it’s your turn to stand with us – visit Amnesty UK for all the details.

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EXCLUSIVE: British Foreign Minister Stands Up For Burma’s Political Prisoners

The gauntlet has been well and truely thrown down by the British Government – Foreign minister Jeremy Browne MP stands in solidarity with Burma’s former political prisoners demanding the unconditional release of all of Burma’s political prisoners.

British Foreign Minister, Jeremy Browne MP

He had previously had his photo taken whilst speaking at Amnesty HQ last week but I managed to arrange a 30 second photo shoot (and a slightly longer chat!) after the briefing given by British Ambassador to Burma, Andy Heyn. The room was about a s dark as cell in Insein but we did our best and even managed a bit of undercover filming from DVB without anyone knowing… no change there then!

So will fellow MPs from the opposition party follow on from the governments lead?… stay tuned to find out…

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