The Talk of the Town: Burma’s Political Prisoners and Lady Gaga

Surely the most bizarre yet still most welcome acclaim so far… the top 10 things being talked about in the “Talk of The Town” list sees Burma’s Political Prisoners coming 3rd in the list just behind Lady Gaga who takes the runner up spot!

It’s a mad mad world for sure and on the same day that George Clooney adopts the pose to be photographed by one of my all time hero’s Anton Corbijn for his book “Inside The American”. The only difference is that Clooney’s pose is not for my work or for Burma… it’s just a portrait for the cover of a book, but I wonder why he thought of the idea to be photographed this way… could it be that I sent him my portfolio in August 2009 asking him to become involved in my project due to his great work for Burma through ‘Not On Our Watch‘? (that not a lot of people know about). Whatever George… I’ll take the credit… for today the world just doesn’t make sense as more than 15,000 people flee Burma in the expected fall out from the election and political prisoners stand alongside Lady Gaga as well as clearly leaving their influence on one of the greatest photographers of all time as well as one of Hollywoods biggest stars.

George Clooney and a nice idea for a pose…

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Labour & Burma’s Political Prisoners: Solidarity or Self Interest?

Britain’s Labour Party stood in unity today with Burma’s political prisoners as our trip back to the House of Commons saw almost 20 MPs (many from the Shadow Cabinet) take action for Amnesty’s campaign including the Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, Harriet Harman and Shadow Foreign Secretary, Yvette Cooper.

Harriet Harman MP

We shot the portraits in the Parliamentary Labour Party office inside the House of Commons – beautifully old and historic rooms, but about as dark as a cell in Insein. Five minutes running around the office trying to find a suitable spot before members of the Shadow Cabinet poured in through the doors and organised chaos ensued before we got the ‘media friendly group shots’ out of the way leaving me to take a few individual portraits that count for what I’m trying to show. It was hectic and we sped through the group shots despite me not knowing who was who (if only I cared about British politics as much as I do about Burma’s!). It went well but a sudden moment of dissent from within the ranks was an unexpected shock – it was rightfully and ruthlessly quashed by Harriet Harman who was not amused at all and I thank her for it. We live in a free world where we have the right of freedom of speech however to announce that you are not writing a name on your hand because “it’s a stupid idea” is insulting and disrespectful to the 2,200 political prisoners and all the former political prisoners I am working with and quite frankly Mr ‘un-named’ MP, I of all people am very happy for you not to be part of it. If the SPDC are trying to infiltrate the House of Commons like the DDOS attacks currently underway in Burma as we speak then they failed miserably. If I had been in Harriet’s shoes or if this had been Naypidaw then the offending General would have very quickly found himself in a dark cell in Myingyan. If Harriet was left decisively un-amused you can be sure I was left very much insulted and left wondering why this certain MP bothered turning up at all… solidarity or self-interest?

Yvette Cooper MP

After the whirlwind of politicians had been and gone, I managed to have a brief meeting with Yvette Cooper to discuss Burma, the elections and of course the issue for political prisoners including the current grave situation faced by many on the Thai-Burma border with potential forced repatriation on the cards. She showed a passionate and concerned interest in Burma and the current situation in the country both now and post election. With David Cameron heading to China next week, I wonder what discussions (if any) the British Government will have about the two detained Nobel Peace prize winners, one of whom is due to make headlines once again next week.

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Gioia Magazine – Burma’s Political Prisoners in Italy

Another feature article, but this time in Italian magazine ‘Gioia’. Thanks to Tiziana Lelo who is the picture editor at the magazine and also to Stefano Rejec for the interview.

Former political prisoners featured in the article are: Top Left – Yee Yee Htun; Centre – Bo Kyi; Bottom Right – Kyu Kyu Win. The article also features portraits from the Amnesty International campaign using this work and includes the portrait of Waihnin Pwint Thon who has her fathers name (Mya Aye) written on the palm of her hand.

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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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Amnesty Netherlands Magazine

Another front page for Ba Ba U Win Tin and an accompanying feature article as well – with huge thanks to Jorn and Elke at Amnesty Netherlands for producing this great opportunity to continue raising awareness and profile of political prisoners.

Former political prisoners featured alongside U Win Tin are (clockwise top left to right): Htein Lin, U Zawana, Saw Than Hla, Daw San San and Kyaw Win Shwe.

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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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Hands Up For Democracy in Burma

Another major article in a national newspaper – this time it’s the The Observer newspaper in the UK that ran a double page feature on this work with political prisoners. Thanks to Jack Davies for his time and the many long distance phone conversations we’ve had over the past week.

You can read the article on The Observer website.

Unlike the first major international feature article about this work in The Independent (which concentrated on telling the story about the work itself and about political prisoners) this article leads with the portraits of celebrities and politicians/statesmen accompanying the portraits of two former political prisoners – my friends ‘Zulu’ and ‘Andrew’ as it has now become a campaign and politics is on the agenda with the election fast approaching. This shows how with Amnesty International‘s involvement we have been able to attract high profile people to stand in solidarity on this issue. Raising awareness amongst the general public is crucial if we are to achieve our hopes of change. However, an unfortunate by-product of that need to educate and inform people is often the way in which the message is carried to the masses and in this article the rather unfortunate sub-heading stating that “Amnesty organised a unique photo project” may be true to the extent that a few celebrities have been photographed by Amnesty as well as more than 5,000 members of the public, but it does not reflect or respect the fact that this is an independent long term documentary project (still ongoing) in which many people in Burma as well as outside have put their lives on the line and continue to do so right now as we speak in order to get the world to stand up and take notice about the illegal incarceration of more than 2,150 political prisoners in Burma. To read about the actual “unique photo project” please read the Independent’s take on this matter. Amnesty International have of course done more than just arrange a few people to be photographed and they didn’t write the sub-heading that is misleading at best but unfortunate journalistic licence in order to attract attention like the large portrait that adorns both pages. Without Amnesty International being involved now in the capacity that they are there would be no major campaign, there would be no 5,000plus images of support being delivered by British Deputy Prime Minister to the ASEM meeting today and there would be no images of Nick Clegg himself and other world leaders, statesmen and celebrities standing in solidarity with the former political prisoners who are leading the way. Like the newspaper editor who said during the Saffron Revolution that Burma is only on the front pages because the colourful images of monks robes make good pictures, too often to get the world to listen you have to sanitize the truth. If a celebrity or even you or I can bring change to Burma and bring about the release of all political prisoners then I will be the first person to celebrate, but please don’t forget who it’s all about. Those who have suffered and those who continue to do so. They are the ones who are leading the way.

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Political Activist and Former Political Prisoner Speaking Tour to New Zealand

My good friend and former political prisoner Aung Khaing Min who works at the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, will be visiting New Zealand on a 10 day tour giving a first-hand account of his own experiences as an activist and political prisoner in Burma and the personal struggles the people of Burma face. He was just 14 years old when he first stood up to the regime in 1988 and has spent 5 years in prison for his political activities. Aung Khaing Min will also be asking the New Zealand Government what they are doing for the people of Burma. His visit from October 10th-20th is part of Amnesty International’s Freedom campaign.

For full details of his trip please visit Amnesty New Zealand

Aung Khaing Min was jailed for 5 years in Insein and Taungoo prisons


His brother’s name ‘Chit Ko Lin’ is written on his hand.
Chit Ko Lin is serving a 7 year sentence in Pakokku prison

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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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Burma’s Political Prisoner’s Launch Photomonth Festival

Internationally renowned photography festival “Photomonth” celebrates its 10th anniversary this year and who better to take centre stage on the launch night other than Burma’s political prisoners. The official website is launching soon but you can read more about the festival here on ‘The Arts Hub’.

To have my name mentioned in the same breath as my hero Philip Jones Griffiths is enough for me, but it’s huge exposure and awareness for the issue of Burma and political prisoners that is most important as the launch party will generate good media attention.

Download your invitations here and come and show your support for Burma’s political prisoners.

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