Thailand Day 19: Generation Wave “Never Give Up”

It’s May and the wet season is starting to close in with the first of the sporadic showers that break this oppressive heat of the last few weeks. I’m still here… no complaints at all as I could stay forever and never finish the work that  needs to be done, but today is the last day before heading back to Bangkok and the mayhem that awaits with the red shirt demonstrations. It’s getting tense in Bangkok now and it seems it’s only a matter of time before it erupts once and for all. Tomorrow I’m meeting up with Thar Nyunt Oo from VOA but before then we have a music video to shoot for Generation Wave for their latest single “Never Give Up”. It’s being directed by brilliant documentary film maker Mike Garrod who is over here working on a feature length documentary called “Beyond Section 10” about the lives of the soldiers in the KNLA and it’s excellent – you can see a clip here.

Click HERE to view all the images from the video.

Last night Mike shot the night scene in a quiet part of the backstreets of Mae Sot and with the many helping hands of fellow GW members holding smoke machines, revving bikes and shining spotlights, lead rappers 9KT and MK got the video got off to a great start. Today however was a different matter as trying to shoot in broad daylight without drawing too much attention to themselves would prove challenging – naturally they have to keep their identities hidden and wearing masks and covering up was tricky in the searing heat. We moved form the market and side streets to a set up at the AAPP office where they were filmed as political prisoners in the AAPP museum’s replica prison cell (there are 21 members of GW in prison at the moment). The final scenes were shot late into the night back at the safe house and the video was wrapped, full of political messages against the regime and reinforcing Generations Wave’s message to “Never Give Up”.

In between scenes I had to dash around not only saying my final goodbyes and making final plans but also managed one last portrait for the campaign – a brave man indeed and that’s all I can say about him. It’s hard to believe that six weeks or so have finally come to an end already but it’s been so successful and things are very nicely set up to make a big impact with Amnesty International back in the UK who are getting right behind this campaign in a big way. A final beer at Aiya with friends before leaving on the night bus to Bangkok and a chance meeting with Wai Moe who is in town – great to see him and to catch up. I feel sad to be leaving now but it’s a perfect sign to depart with because that’s exactly what this work is all about. Even though I’m leaving, in spirit I am not, for no matter where we are in the world “Though imprisoned they are everywhere with us”.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

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).

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

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

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 9: Generation Wave

In a safe house in Mae Sot, we sit chatting and laughing about an extraordinary incident that happened in Burma just last week. I was there on a flying visit, working undercover on this campaign but not even in my wildest dreams could I have expected it to happen. Playing tourist for the moment, but still very clearly being watched, I stood away from most prying eyes in a far corner of the concourse that surrounds Shwedagon Pagoda going through the motions of taking photographs of the beauty around me. I turned around and was immediately frozen to the spot. There sitting right in front of me was Kyaw Oo, a member of Generation Wave who I had been with in Mae Sot just days before arriving in Burma. A casual glance to each other but no more, as this was most certainly not the time or place to continue where we had left off just days earlier! I think winning the lottery would have been more likely than this – even writing about it now I still can’t quite believe it happened… but i believe it was a good omen because my trip was successful and so to was his and here we are both now sitting in the evening heat of Mae Sot laughing about it.

In the aftermath of the Saffron Revolution a new youthful student force was born. Five former high school friends galvanised by the demonstrations that they took part in and the events on the streets of Rangoon that shocked the world started their own underground organisation. Generation Wave was founded on 9th October 2007 by Zay Yar Thaw, Aung Zay Phyo, Nyein Nwae, Moe Thway and Min Yan Naing all of whom were actively involved in the students demonstrations in 1996 and 1998. Over the last two years they have carried out a number of high profile campaigns inside Burma – including pamphleting, grafitti, daring protests outside Insein prison and distributing CDs of their music in tea shops. But at some price. There are currently 21 members of the group in jail in Burma including Zayar Thaw, Arkar Bo, Aung Zay Phyo and Thiha Win Tin. Two thirds of their members are behind bars for promoting democracy in their country. It’s made even worse when you consider their age.

For the full picture on Generation Wave please read this in-depth interview with them here in this great article by my friend Joseph Allchin from DVB.

There are currently only a handful of GW members living in exile here in Mae Sot (obviously names and details can’t be divulged for security reasons), including one, let’s call her ‘Nyi Ma’, a very old friend of Jackie’s when she was living in Rangoon. They had not seen each other for more than 10 years and we all met in complete surprise for the first time since then during the AAPP tenth anniversary last month. With that first coincidental meeting with a member of GW I suppose I really shouldn’t have been surprised when I bumped in to Kyaw Oo in Rangoon! So other than just enjoying spending time with friends at Generation Wave HQ, I’m also here to take the portrait of the only member of GW who is a former political prisoner.

Kyaw Oo has been jailed twice for his political activities – in 1989 for 4 years and again in 2008 for 1 year – both times in Insein prison. He was released in the General Amnesty on September 19th 2009 and now lives in exile here in Thailand. You can see the portrait we took here on the main website. I have been lucky enough to spend a lot of time with Generation Wave over the past few weeks (often just having a break from what I’m doing and hanging out with my little sister and co has provided me with the space to find new ideas and inspirations). And it has proved so very inspiring to spend time with them. In fact I’ve got some ideas for some portraits for them all so we’ll have some fun next week for sure. Despite being too old to be a member I have been given the great honour of having my own numbered mug (the only non-member with an official place in the dishrack!) – so if you’re ever at their house and you see number 10 left lieing around half filled with unfinished coffee you’ll know it’s me! The Student movement has long played the decisive role in shaping the fight against the military regime and like so many that came before them, they are the new generation of students, still fighting for their country, but a long long way from home.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 7: Mae Sot – On Becoming an IDP

I am officially a refugee. Or maybe more of an IDP. I was supposed to be leaving Thailand in 3 days… not anymore. Late last week a volcano erupted again in Iceland sending plumes of volcanic ash into the sky and bringing a halt to all flights in Europe. It first erupted on March 21st having been dormant for more than 200 years but now it had got angry and has brought Europe to a grinding halt which means I’m not going anywhere fast. After spending 3 hours trying to get through to Emirates office in Bangkok I finally managed to re-schedule my flight – for Monday 2nd March!! A 10 day extension to this trip is obviously very welcome as there is plenty to do but it throws a few spanners in the works (quite literally with work in the UK). But its settled for me and now I can carry on with all the blog writing I’ve been busy doing last week and also with the editing of thousands of photographs. So what was going to be a frantic last few days here in Mae Sot has now turned in to a much more enjoyable timescale allowing me to hot-desk from my work places at AAPP to DVB to GW and back again as much of the background work can be completed at a more relaxed and obviously enjoyable pace. With any luck we’ll get the chance to take a few more portraits as well!

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 4: Mae Sot & The Party Goes On

Three days of partying are starting to take their toll – thank God today is the last day of Thingyan! Yesterday afternoon a bomb went off in Rangoon and it wasn’t really until later into the evening that we had a clearer picture of casualties. Jackie had called me in the afternoon as her sister had been down there – thankfully she was fine, but many others weren’t – it seems 5 or so people have died. The bizarre thing is if I had stayed on in Rangoon I would have been in the exact area where the bomb went off… plus it was the exact location where I had bumped in to a General and his entourage on Monday afternoon. coincidence?… definitely food for thought in my book. Also last night I got the final confirmation from Andy Buncombe at The Independent that the big article about my work would run in the magazine next saturday on 24th April – plus U Win Tin on the cover (read more here). So there was a reason to really let the hair down last night and it went on late as usual… Aiya, Reggae bar, Khungs… all the usual places and all the usual fun with my little sister Nyi Ma Ei Ei and all her crew. So the final day of partying away at Aiya with everyone. I wish Jackie was here to enjoy it but we will have to make sure its on our schedule to be here next year if we can’t all be back in Burma to experience it for real. A quiet end to the evening with dinner in the night market with Thar Gyi and Aung Khaing Min. It’s been a well earned week of relaxation (with a splattering of work at times during the day… can’t keep the camera down for too long!) but it’s back to work on Sunday as we’re heading back to Umpiem Mai camp once more.

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved

Thailand Day 11: Mae Sot Over & Out… for now

The end is in sight… well, for me the end of the first of many phases of this trip as I’ll be back here in Mae Sot in a couple of weeks, but for Jackie it’s the final day of her first time to Mae Sot and more importantly the first time back within touching distance of her homeland (you can read more on previous post here). As I said before, I cant begin to imagine what that must feel like, not just for the thousands who are living here who have fled but also for those who come here for the first time, often opening up old wounds from many years ago. A somewhat more relaxed day today as I made the decision during yesterday that I can re-shoot people when I return in a couple of weeks time – so we spend today just wandering around and doing some shopping in the market and also down at the Rim Moei market down at the border.

One day this will be us back home in Rangoon

But I can’t keep my camera locked up for long and whilst stopping off at AAPP to collect some books I decide to re-shoot Aung Khaing Min and also by complete chance I bump into a friend of Moe Maung Maung (from Norway) – he had told me about Aung Kyaw Oo (not the Aung Kyaw Oo who works at AAPP) and by chance here he was in the AAPP office! So we snap away and get two portraits for the price of one – done using the backdrop of the huge poster of my project thats on the wall in the office.

Aung Kyaw Oo

Aung Khaing Min

Aung Kyaw Oo was jailed twice for a total of 5 years – first time in 1988 (4 years) and then again in 2008 (1 year). He was a member of the All Burma Student Demo Movement Organisation & All Burma Student Union re-establishment committee. Aung Khaing Min was jailed in 1996 for 5 years in Insein and Tharawaddy prisons. The name on his hand is his brother Chit Ko Lin who is serving a 7 year sentence in Pakokku prison.

Throughout the week we have been having a number of secret meetings about my forthcoming trip to Burma – naturally I can’t talk about anything here but it’s all set now and this is where I am heading next (after a holiday on the beach with my beautiful assistant!!).  We spend the remainder of the afternoon with our little sister Nyi Ma Ei Ei before heading back to the AAPP office for a leaving party for Aung Kyaw Oo, his wife Florence and their beautiful little daughter Louanne as they set off to France for several months – it’s sure to be a very special time for Aung Kyaw Oo considering he has spent 15 years in prison and now is setting off on a whole new life adventure. It’s sad to be leaving Mae Sot and all my friends (and many new ones) once again and we get carried away enjoying the company too much as always and before we know it we have about 5 minutes to get to the bus station!! We race back to collect our bags and luckily pick up Thiha and Aye Min Soe on the way past Aiya – we jump on the back of their bikes and race to the bus station, getting there at 9.30 with 30 seconds to spare… or so I thought until we checked the tickets and our bus was the 9.15 and had left!! It was like Japan all over again – why do we always have last minute dramas trying to leave somewhere!! Thankfully there was a final bus leaving that had space so we climbed aboard bidding a fond farewell to all. An incredible trip, but now it starts to take on a whole new meaning…

Copyright © ENIGMA IMAGES and not to be reproduced without permission.
All Rights Reserved