Making Contact At Last – The Interview

The second article published today was by Emily Graham at ‘Contact Editions‘. Contact has been established as a dynamic online space where lovers and collectors of photography can find and support the work they love, providing a funding platform for both established and emerging photographers. It’s run by Emily Graham and Anna Stevens and I was lucky enough to be asked to do a full interview with them about the project – in fact we had first spoken about doing this some months ago and it’s perfect timing that it’s published today. You can read the interview on the Contact Editions website.

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The Public be Warned of Interviews in the Airwaves – RFA, VOA & BBC

Following on from the announcement earlier today of the double award recognition at the ‘Prix de la Photographie Paris 2010’ awards for both this project for Burma’s political prisoners and my other recent work for the Mae Tao clinic the airwaves were full of us saboteurs as RFA, VOA and BBC all kindly did interviews with me allowing me the opportunity to talk about Burma’s political prisoners as well as the Mae Tao clinic and the refugee situation for a change.

MRTV broadcasts warnings of ‘killers in the airwaves’

You can read an article about the two award victories here on the RFA website or you can listen to the ‘killers in the airwaves’ doing interviews below:

Click below to listen to the 3 interviews:

BBC Burmese interview 07 June 2010

Two Major Photojournalism Awards at ‘Prix de la Photographie Paris 2010’

In what could well prove to be the the start of one of the most important periods in time for this work for Burma’s political prisoners I was woken to the sound of a text message from the other side of the world… “Another double for Burma”. I had a feeling what it was about and so rushed online to check in for the results. To my absolute astonishment and overwhelming joy and pride for all those involved in both pieces of work, I saw that I had won both 1st and 2nd prize in the Prix de la Photographie Paris 2010 Political Photojournalism – this project took the second place whilst it was my other work for the Mae Tao clinic that took top honours (you can see it here). Shocked. Stoked. Speechless.

For full details you can download the full press release here: PX3 2010 Press Release

This new award like those before it are not for me or for my ability in having taken any of these photographs. That’s the easiest thing to do when you have an emotional connection to something. All these awards and recognition belong to the people who have taken part in this project – the 167 former political prisoners and the 2,157 currently in jail and the many hundreds I am yet to meet. In particular I’d like to dedicate this award to the former political prisoners living a stateless life on the Thai-Burma border. In a world where true courage is so rarely rewarded, these people bear dignity, and show strength like no other in the face of an unknown future having just escaped a very forgettable past. Exactly the same goes for the award for the Mae Tao clinic and the hundreds of people it cares for each day. Human dignity and the suffering it has been forced to endure at the hands of the brutal military regime knows no bounds.

It was the most amazing start to the week and I’m hoping it’s the next launchpad for this work and my involvement in Burma. Last year this project got its first major chance of exposure when it won runner-up prize in the Amateur category of Political Photojournalism but this year to win both 1st and 2nd place in the professional photographers category is my biggest achievement to date. First contact of the day is of course with those who have made both projects happen and very special thanks to those people – at the Mae Tao clinic it’s to my good friend Eh Thwa and of course Dr Cynthia and the thanks for this work for Burma’s political prisoners of course goes to AAPP, DVB and every single one of the 167 former PPs that I’ve photographed all over the world, the 2,157 currently detained and also to the many hundreds I am yet to meet on this fabulous journey. Without them there is nothing and with them there is everything.

Though imprisoned they are everywhere with us.

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EXCLUSIVE: Zarganar – A New Poem from Inside Hell

Below is an EXCLUSIVE new poem from Zarganar who is currently detained in Myitkyina prison in Kachin state. The poem was received by his good friend Htein Lin (and former political prisoner) who drew the accompanying illustration and asked me to publish them for you all to enjoy… so here they are:

by Zarganar, Myitkyina Jail, 2010

It’s lucky my forehead is flat

Since my arm must often rest there.

Beneath it shines a light I must invite

From a moon I cannot see

In Myitkyina.

Zarganar @ Thura was first jailed in 1988 and spent 1 year in Insein prison for his role in the mass demonstrations. He was jailed once more in 1990 and this time was sentenced to 4 years in prison. But it was in 2008 that the SPDC dealt the most severe of sentences on him due to his humanitarian efforts in helping those whose lives where devastated in Cyclone Nargis whilst all the Generals could do was stand and watch. On 21st November 2008 Zarganar is sentenced by the Court to 45 years imprisonment for violations of the Electronics Act. On 29th November 2008 he receives an additional 14 years under four sections of the criminal code—17/2, 32 (b), 295 (a) and 505 (b), bringing the total sentence to 59 years. However, on 16th February 2009 following appeals, Yangon Divisional Court reduces the prison sentence by “up to 24 years”, bringing the sentence down to 35 years. He is currently detained in Myitkyina prison in Kachin State.

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U Win Tin: Face to Face With My Hero

Rightfully emblazoned on the front cover of Amnesty International magazine (May/June edition) is the face of U Win Tin with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s name written on his palm… the most fitting place possible for his portrait to be published on the magazine of the world’s biggest human rights organisation.

The interview was done amidst the backdrop of a tense Bangkok as red shirts were staging defiant protests also. You can read the article in the image below if you have good eyesight or failing that join Amnesty International and you can get a copy of the magazine every month… although I can’t guarantee I’ll get U Win Tin on the cover every time… but I’ll try!

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Thailand Day 17: Portraits of a Generation

Click here to view the Generation Wave Portraits

Students have long played an important role over the past decades in shaping the struggle for democracy in Burma. Generation Wave are just another generation of those students that came before them, standing up for what they believe in, in spite of the severe repercussions they face – you can read more about Generation Wave here from a previous post on this blog from a couple of weeks ago. I’ve been staying here at the Generation Wave safe house with my little sister and the rest of GW for much of the past two weeks – it’s quiet, away from the prying eyes and I can get a lot of work done as well as relax and have some fun at the same time. Today we decided to do just that and tried some portraits – they were keen to try to include the style in my political prisoner portraits and it’s quite funny really when you think that their logo is also a hand, so I came up with an idea to use it to cover their faces in the portraits (they have to remain anonymous for obvious reasons).

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Thailand Day 15: Mae Sot

In trying to make the most of this extra time here on the border it just constantly seems that there is never enough time. Meetings that just never seem to happen meaning that my plans to get to Chiang Mai and catch up with Rachel, and friends at Chiang Mai and DVB are likely to be put on the back burner again and may not happen at all this time which is a shame. The week has been busy with re-editing and re-shooting mixed with plenty of “R ‘n’ R” mostly over at Generation Wave’s HQ where I’ve been staying for a bit. So far this week I’ve retaken a number of portraits and yesterday and today once again we managed to do U Sandawbartha (16 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons), Moe Myint (12 years in Insein prison on 4 occasions) and Dr Tun Thu (8 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons).

Dr Tun Thu

Unfortunately Dr Tun Thu has been suffering from what is possibly a serious case of post traumatic stress syndrome due to his time as a political prisoner. Last year when I met him he was fit and healthy and working as a doctor in the Mae Tao clinic. In the months in-between I was very sad to learn of his failing mental health and he appears to have suffered very badly indeed. But meeting him now it would actually appear that he is hopefully turning the corner. One can’t begin to imagine how the mind has suffered through years of torture and abuse as a political prisoner. The body can show you the scars of pain but it’s what’s inside that can so often be so much more painful. There is no support system for former political prisoners other than their friends and colleagues here on the border. But there is possibly hope that comes in the form of the ‘Borderline Project‘ for former political prisoners which is a proposal to form a safe house, training and rehabilitation project here in Mae Sot and is being set up by my friend Thiha and Markus Baude. It is an excellent proposal and I can only hope that they are successful in their search for funding… I know how difficult that is (not one penny funding received yet for this project – ed). Also I’ve been busy with more UNHCR work today and will continue tomorrow as well as interviews need translating and more need to be taken… but still no response to my requests for a meeting with the UNHCR office themselves.

Other news I learn today is about Human Rights Watch plans to step up their political prisoner campaign “2100 by 2010“. They will be holding an exhibition (installation) in Grand Central Station in New York in June possibly around Aung San Suu Kyi’s 65th birthday. It looks really impressive and will hopefully keep up the awareness in the public domain – it certainly should being in one of the worlds busiest train stations. They have arranged for one of the world’s top portrait photographers Platon to come and photograph former political prisoners to be part of this campaign. Nice idea… wonder where that came from? I had meetings with HRW back in December 2009 about my work linking with their campaign but despite initial meetings outlining how ideal it was unfortunately nothing came of it… and here they now have one of the world’s top portrait photographers instead. That’s just life, but I am more pleased that one of the worlds top photographers is showing an interest in Burma and in particular political prisoners. I for one can’t wait to see his pictures and I only hope he does my friends justice…

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Thailand Day 13: A Incident of Inspiration

Today I am inspired. In part obviously because of the superb article printed yesterday in The independent Magazine which provides a great platform to take things forward, but also because of an incident last night. Whilst out celebrating the publishing of the article we were unfortunately targeted in a case of mistaken identity… but maybe not mistaken, who knows. Either way it was unfortunate and resulted in an incident which has knocked some inspiration into me (as well as a few bruises). No harm done at all in reality and no need to waste any space here talking about it as I’m going to be busy re-editing 35 portraits I took last summer at the AAPP office. They’ve been bugging me for some time, I love most of them, but they have ended up as square portraits whereas all the others are now landscapes – which isn’t exactly traditional for a portrait but in my case it works for what I want to say and what these photographs portray. Anyway, all is now looking good as I’m inspired and have got the trick to re-work them… more work but so worthwhile.

Lae Lae

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Thailand Day 12: At Last The Moment of Truth

The build up to today really started last Thursday during Thingyan. As we were all out partying away in the Reggae bar my phone started beeping – incoming texts from Andy Buncombe in India… “Is it ok now to say you’ve just been to Burma? Looks like it is on the cover. Will know tonight”. One hour later and it was confirmed… “Am told Win Tin is going on the front! They are using 18 of the portraits! Full Colour too!”.

Today was the day that the world would finally get to see the one portrait we have had to keep under wraps for 9 long months – but now it’s the real birth of this campaign. I met U Win Tin in Rangoon during summer 2009 at the time of Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial – you can check back to the date on this blog by clicking here to read about it. To say it was a highlight is an understatement. He is an icon. My Hero. Meeting him was one of the greatest moments of my life. Naturally I can’t go into all the details of how, where and why, but to some it may be apparent anyway when you look at the photographs here. We spent about an hour chatting before I took his portrait – it was truely mesmerising, he really is a remarkable man. They say there are moments in life that change your way of thinking. This is a moment that simply changed my life. There were so many moments that linger long in my memory – but perhaps the funniest was when after an hour of talking suddenly someone appeared outside the large glass windows in front of where we were sitting, pretending to clean them but with eyes fixed firmly on me and U Win Tin. The thing that made me laugh was that we were 20 floors up and it was pouring with rain. Military Intelligence will stop at nothing!

The interview that I did with him was published in the Irrawaddy in August last year under one of my pseudonyms Tom Parry (one of many like James Mackay !) – you can read it here. At the time that we met it was a very different situation as Aung San Suu Kyi was about to sentenced and U Win Tin’s own personal safety was under threat of imminent re-arrest due to his continued outspokenness over the treatment of Daw Suu and the current situation. We were going to publish the photo on the morning of the verdict in Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial – it would have been front page in The Independent but also would definitely have seen U Win Tin returned straight to jail, most likely under the archaic Electronic Act. We had to pull the plug at the last moment and it was the right decision despite the risks we had taken to get the shot. I was sure the time would come again when it could be used in its own right and not off the back of another event in Burma and sure enough here it is. A feature article about Burma’s political prisoners lead by their most famous Uncle, Saya U Win Tin.

I owe a massive debt of gratitude to Andy Buncombe for his continued belief in this campaign and me – he was as determined as me that one day we would get the story out – but I could never have expected it to have been in this fashion and to have front cover and 5 full pages inside with 18 portraits is more than I could dream of – but it’s only any good if it does any good. We need to keep the issue of political prisoners firmly in the spotlight. Nothing less will do.

I spoke with U Win Tin this morning to share the wonderful feeling at seeing his image staring out proudly at the world with the name of Burma’s true leader marked clearly on his hand. He was delighted and excited that finally our moment from last year can be shared with the world. You won’t be buying this edition of The Independent anywhere in Burma, but be sure that he has his own copy. (We had spoken several times in the past few weeks to confirm he was 100% happy to go ahead with publishing the image despite the risks he may face and he was adamant it must be published. Above all else U Win Tin’s safety was considered more than anything – for me it was and still is the most important thing, but he was crystal clear in wanting this image to be shown to the world).

And under those orders, here it is. The image that will now go on to lead this campaign for Burma’s Political Prisoners in the build up to the elections later this year. You can expect some more very exciting big news soon..

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WORLD EXCLUSIVE: U Win Tin – The Voice They Cannot Silence

UK newspaper “The Independent” publishes an in-depth feature article about Burma’s Political Prisoners in the colour supplement magazine on Saturday 24th April 2010 featuring 18 images from this campaign including an EXCLUSIVE portrait of U Win Tin.

For full details of the article visit The Independent website on Saturday 24th April.

“Well you see my opinion about this government is you see, that when you have to face with a military government, you need a little bit of courage, some sort of confronting you see. Because if you are always timid and afraid and intimidated they will stamp on you. Sometimes you have to make yourself a bit courageous, outspoken and so on.

That is why when people tell me I should keep a low profile because people are very anxious about my security. You can be snatched back to prison at any time, but you can’t help it.

You can’t help you see. Of course you don’t like to go back of course, but you see you can’t help, that depends on them, their idea and their intention.

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