OSI Moving Walls 19 – Burma’s Fearlessness in NYC

A great week back in the big apple and saw the Moving Walls 19 opening reception being held in great style at the Open Society Foundations headquarters in New York City. The work ha sheen well received and looks great on the walls at OSF and its great to be partnered with them now to promote this issue even further. Below is a short clip of the opening night and some images of the installation. Thanks to all at OSF in the Documentary Photography Project and the Burma Project – here’s to the future.

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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.

Burma’s Political Prisoners book: ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’ with foreword by Aung San Suu Kyi

After 3 long years of  hard work and over 100,000 miles travelled, finally the book of our long term project documenting Burma’s political prisoners will be published in November 2011 by River Books. Hopefully all political prisoners will also be released by then as well.

Featuring a foreword written by Aung San Suu Kyi and portraits of more than 250 former political prisoners in exile around the world (as well as over 50 from inside Burma, including leaders of the National League for Democracy), ‘Abhaya – Burma’s Fearlessness’ captures a moment in time in Burma’s history, dated October 2011, with more than 2,000 political prisoners incarcerated.

 

ABOUT THE BOOK:

The Abhaya mudrā (“mudrā of fear-not”) represents protection, peace and the dispelling of fear.

In 1962 a military coup lead by General Ne Win saw Burma, an isolated Buddhist country in South-East Asia, come under the power of one of the world’s most brutal regimes. For the past five decades, thousands of people have been arrested, tortured and given long prison sentences for openly expressing their beliefs and for daring to defy dictators who tolerate no form of dissent or opposition to their rule.

Today, more than 2,000 political prisoners including monks, students, journalists, lawyers, elected Members of Parliament and over 300 members of Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition party, The National League for Democracy, are incarcerated in Burma’s notorious prisons.

In Burma and across the world, almost 300 hundred former political prisoners have come together to raise awareness of the tragic plight of their colleagues still detained in jail. Photographed standing with their right hand raised, palm out-turned facing the camera, the name of a current political prisoner is shown written on their hand. The sacred Buddhist gesture of Abhaya, “Fear Not”, is not only an act of silent protest, but also one of remembrance and fearlessness.

“The people featured in this book have all had to learn to face their fears squarely during the decades they have passed in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. Their commitment has been their courage. It is important that they and what they stand for should not be forgotten, that their sufferings as well as their aspirations should be remembered.”

“I hope that all who read this book will be encouraged to do everything they can to gain the freedom of political prisoners in Burma and to create a world where there are no political prisoners” Aung San Suu Kyi

View the project in its entirety at www.enigmaimages.net

 

 

The Final Curtain Falls as a New Dawn Breaks

Visiting USA seems to come as a last minute, unexpected but great surprise. In January we were on a plane with 48 hours of getting the call from Yoko Ono and this time is almost the same as frantic calls between Indiana, New York and DC confirm that it’s now or never. So now it is and a four day four city tour begins in DC currently in full meltdown with a record 100 degree heatwave hitting the city as I land. Beats the 18 percent grey of the UK. It’s 20 years since I was last in DC, back then it was just passing through, catching a few sites and this time is not much different with just 24 hours to take in RFA, VOA and other killers in the airwaves.

First stop was RFA and finally a chance to meet everyone after years of relying on that old communication device, the telephone. Thanks to Nyan Winn Aung for helping to arrange this as back into the streets we went to photograph, Nay Rein Kyaw, Soe Win and Nay Lin. Racing across town, next stop was VOA and a building the size of Buckingham Palace overlooking the National Mall. Catching up with Thar Nyunt Oo who I had met last year in Bangkok amidst the chaos of the Red shirt uprising it was another great opportunity to meet the other half of Washington’s exiled Burmese ‘Saboteurs’ as the regime would like us all to believe they are. Kyaw Thein had helped me set up this opportunity but as before at RFA the first spanner in the works appeared in taking people’s portraits. The role of journalists is to be objective and report truthfully and in the case of all at RFA, VOA and other Burmese exiled media this is in no doubt even if it may appear that they are all activists fighting the regime – it’s not their fault that there is only a bad picture that can be painted about the Burmese government. But unfortunately hand in hand with that impartial role as a journalist taking part in this work appeared to be crossing the line. For me, whilst disappointing, I can understand and respect this decision of the powers that be high up, but for everyone in the Burmese section and particularly the former political prisoners who could now not join their colleagues I felt a sense of sadness. It was always going to be impossible to photograph every former political prisoner in the world and there are of course many who have been photographed in Burma who I cannot show, but now those who are allowed to be photographed will also represent those who are not.

A Selection of Portraits from the Last Leg of this Three Year Journey

With DC wrapped and a quick stop off in between flights to meet Nyi Nyi Aung and Aung Din, the next stop on this flying visit was Fort Wayne, Indiana and the home of more than 7,000 refugees from Burma who have been resettled in this industrial town in Midwestern USA. It is home to a significant number of former political prisoners too and with the help of good friends Aung Khaing Min from AAPP who was in town at the time and Myo Myint, who many of you will know from Nic Dunlop’s stunning film ‘Burma Soldier‘, a non-stop day criss-crossing from one end of town to the other saw another 11 portraits taken. A very special thanks to Karen for driving what must have felt like a thousand miles. Ending this project here in Fort Wayne is fitting. This is no bright lights big city environment of London, Tokyo or New York. It is a place that is real and perhaps with it brings many of the realities of real life. If the struggle for democracy has been a long and difficult one, then the struggle to rebuild your life is as hard. Being here now to end this long journey that has been full of emotional pain and joy in equal measures, it is a perfect place to reflect on what those less fortunate than many of us in this world have to go through.

Returning to America in such haste and so soon after only having been here a few months ago was because of what is to come in the second half of this year. When this whole project first started I could never have imagined I would be where I am now having put together more than 250 portraits, testimonies and personal stories providing a small insight into the horrendous past, present and likely future of Burma’s political prisoners. It was my desire from the start that at some point I could somehow be able to put it altogether into a book that might be able to capture a moment in time of part of Burma’s long struggle and also perhaps help people understand more about the deplorable suffering endured by the Burmese people. Now the final chapter can start. The book has been confirmed and the long process of editing is underway. I hope that the end product will do justice to all of those who’s company I have enjoyed and who’s lives I have been honoured to portray over these past years. The final curtain falls as a new dawn breaks.

RFA Interview and the PX3 Victory for Burma

Nice to chat with my friends from RFA again – especially having just been there last week in the DC headquarters and even more so to Ma Ingjin (wife of my friend Ko Thar Nyunt Oo who works at VOA). Thanks for the interview and article on my work.

Read the article here online on the Radio Free Asia website

Listen to the audio interview below – click play on the audioplayer

Burma Wins Big at the PX3 Prix de la Photographie Awards

One of the biggest and most prestigious photography awards in Europe, the “PX3 Prix de la Photographie Paris” have announced the winners in the annual event that celebrates a huge spectrum of photography from Photojournalism to Fine Art. With thousands of entrants from 85 countries including many of the world’s top photographers from agencies such as Panos Pictures and VII it is extremely pleasing and also humbling to win four awards – two golds, one silver and one bronze and an honourable mention – all for recent work in Burma and on the Thai-Burma border.

The winning images and photo-stories are as follows:

Aung San Suu Kyi: At Home With Burma’s Hope“:
Gold in Photojournalism (People)
Silver in Photojournalism (Political)
Honourable Mention in Portraiture

Burma’s democracy icon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, photographed at home at 54 University Avenue

The Prison Without Bars“:
Gold in Photojournalism (Political)

From the refugee camps scattered along the border with Burma to the safe houses of Mae Sot to those who have been resettled to third countries, the daily lives of Burma’s former political prisoners are documented as they continue their fight in the struggle to bring democracy to Burma as well as their own personal fight for freedom.

Burma’s Defiance: Bo Kyi
Bronze in Photojournalism (Political)

“Burma’s Defiance” an ongoing long term project both inside Burma as well as in exile, documenting dissidents and human rights defenders still leading the fight against the ruling military regime in spite of threats and harassment from the authorities in the quest to bring freedom to their country.

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It is a huge honour to win these awards but most importantly it gives an audience and a platform to the subject matter and the issues concerned. This is the reason why as photographers so many of us take these pictures and follow these stories – personal satisfaction in the process and challenge of learning, helping and making a difference. Awards are due not to me but to the people in my pictures due to the struggles they have had to endure. My thanks, of course go to each and every one of them.

On Achieving Democracy Over Tea With The Lady

Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon – February 2011

A short message from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi reminding everyone to continue to use their liberty to help promote Burma’s. After all if you did nothing for Burma it would make no difference to your life…

Click below to listen to audio: 

The Lady on political prisoners and her thoughts on the disciplined democracy on offer by Burma’s ‘new’ government. Click below to listen to audio:

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FREE THE VJs: Inside Burma’s Secret Network

Today on World Press Freedom Day the global campaign “Free The VJs” is launched by the Democratic Voice of Burma (DVB). Seventeen reporters for the DVB are incarcerated in prisons across Burma. Some are serving sentences of 27 years, arbitrarily jailed for the so-called crime of exposing the truth about the regime. Their work has included the documenting of scorched-earth tactics against ethnic minorities, the murdering of monks by Burmese troops, and the ineptitude of the regime following cyclone Nargis in 2008. The video-journalists, or VJs, have become a source of humiliation for the regime, which keeps nearly 2,100 political prisoners behind bars: among these are activists, doctors, lawyers, MPs and comedians.

The release of the VJs and Burma’s many political prisoners is a key prerequisite to democratic transition in the country, which in March swore in what it claims to be a new civilian government. Whether this government will overturn Burma’s distinction as one of the world’s most dangerous countries in which to be a journalist remains to be seen, but action must be taken now.

Please visit the official website FREE THE VJs for further details where you can support our campaign and help bring about the release of our colleagues imprisoned in Burma’s jails.

View photos from inside Burma’s the secret VJ network – CLICK HERE – taken clandestinely in the secret offices in Thailand and Norway

Undercover VJs at work in the secret offices

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Aung San Suu Kyi: At Home With Burma’s Hope

All photos available to view in COLOUR or BLACK & WHITE

Reflections on tea with the Lady.

Waiting is often the hardest thing and this has been a long wait – almost three years to be precise since we started this project. But with the Lady under house arrest for so much of this time the opportunity has of course only been there since November 13th last year. We had already made the decision not to fly straight to Rangoon when she was expected to be released, knowing that the world’s media would be there along with numerous well-wishers as well as the vultures circling in the sky determined to get their own piece of the action and press their agendas upon Burma’s great hope. It was hard to sit back and watch the moment of history from afar as the crowds surged down University Avenue knowing I could have been there experiencing the momentous occasion, but in the back of our minds we knew the moment was not right for me to go in just yet and that our waiting would go on a bit longer until we could be distanced from the maddening crowds. Personal desire takes second place to making sure this all works the way it should. These aren’t my stories – I’m just telling them.

54 University Avenue, Aung San Suu Kyi’s lakeside home that has also been her prison

Fast forward a couple of months and the timing is now right as not only has the media long gone but also the cover stories of fantasy car chases has passed and all eyes are firmly back on Naypidaw as a new government is about to sit. Unlike previous trips this one required a more meticulous approach due to the number of people we planned to meet and the obvious risks to them. The last few days were spent lie-ing low in our border office away from the heat in both senses of the word, going through final checks and meetings before making one last call to confirm our date with destiny. The next thing I know a soft eloquent voice, speaking perfect English, is on the other end of the phone. Whatever it is you do in life they say you always remember your first time and this will be a moment that stays with me forever (despite what is to come – ed). The aura of the Lady is infectious and the reality of what we hope to achieve these next weeks with so many people inside Burma hits home in a sense of excitement and anticipation. The funny thing is the filming we’ve been doing for the past few days of interviews and getting ready missed the funniest moment that would have been my face when I realised who it was I was talking to. But words mean everything and those spoken to me by my good friend and colleague Ko Myo as he dropped me off to catch the night bus back to Bangkok resonate still in my heart and head as much as those of the Lady. Loaded with phones, cameras and plenty of cover stories, this may be a mission, but it’s no more important or different from every other one both us and others do every single day that thankfully go unnoticed by Burma’s authorities. I’m only hoping this one does too.

Aung San Suu Kyi at home with her pet dog Tai Chi Toe bought for her by her son Kim

The welcoming party in Rangoon took me by surprise but thankfully it was not for me – you can read all about it here in a previous post (chronology of this Burma trip is not published in date order for obvious reasons). One decision that we made in planning this trip that went against the grain was to do the most high profile thing first and thanks must go to the General Secretary, San San (mine and the one and only) for suggesting and ensuring that this happened. Logic would dictate that you should do the thing that has the most chance of you being caught last of all on your trip, preferably the same day you are leaving, thereby ensuring a swift exit from Burma with perhaps nothing more than being followed by military intelligence. But with so many people to meet there are risks everywhere and putting the Lady first would mean that at least we could get the one the world would know about should we be caught after seeing her or at any other time. So after a day spent being a tourist and buying postcards from young vendors outside Bogyoke Market, finally the day arrived to meet the Lady.

Behind the gates to 54 University Avenue. For years Aung San Suu Kyi stood at these gates giving speeches to thousands gathered outside

As the taxi turned into University Avenue my mind was cast back to my first visit here many years ago, standing alone outside the famous gates (then a faded green) of number 54 whilst Burma’s most famous political prisoner sat alone inside. I dreamt then that one day both I would be able to walk in and that more importantly the Lady would be able to walk out. As we pulled up to number 54 the big yellow gates were opened and we drove through into the the famous compound, a sense of excitement and disbelieving inside me mixed with a nirvana of memories and stories that have been shared with me over these past years by those former Tri-Color students and other NLD members who spent so much time here working and looking after the Lady. I had to pinch myself that I was really here, standing in Aung San Suu Kyi’s compound, closing my eyes imagining what it might have been like to be standing behind these gates with thousands cheering outside as the lady delivered her speeches back in those heady days of the late 1990’s let alone just being here at any other time over the past 20 years.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Burma’s political prisoners:

The house is now a hive of activity with building work and restoration ongoing and meetings being held on the front lawn looking out across the beautiful Inya lake. A warm smile and welcome from many that I already knew and others just recognised and I sat down inside, facing the beautiful huge portrait of General Aung San, waiting for his daughter, the democracy icon of Burma and hero to us all to walk through the doors. It really doesn’t get any better than this. Trust me.

Aung San Suu Kyi at home in Rangoon

“The Lady is coming” said U Nyi before exiting to allow Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to walk into the room. My heart missed a beat as in she walked and with her an aura that is simply indescribable. Everything anyone has ever said is true. And then some. Dignity, grace and beauty personified, I was completely captivated by her and in awe to be in her prescence, which may well sound contrived or over the top but to meet the Lady is more than just a lifelong dream and personal ambition, it is a truely incredible experience, made more so if one has more than just a passing interest in Burma or are here just to get your story. To do so here at her home in University Avenue is a great privilege and all the more memorable. We chatted and shared tea for some time (hours in fact) and whilst a few short sound files can be listened to here (actually from our second meeting the following week) our conversation roaming from politics and prisoners to pianos remains personal as I had already made a conscious decision not to sit there with microphone in hand armed with a barrage of the same old questions just asked in a slightly different way. I left that for the journalists with editors to please and newspapers to sell as this meeting was personal and personally one to be cherished – a chat and afternoon tea with the Lady and I think secretly she enjoyed the alternative approach as smiles and laughter around ensued.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on democracy and the new government:

Aung San Suu Kyi on the front steps at home with Tai Chi Toe

The time came for ‘the photo’ and it took no time at all and for better or worse as usual I made do with what we had – we shared a good laugh when I said all I had and needed was my Leica. A smile came over her face perhaps reminiscing of other more elaborate shooting requirements. With the large portrait of General Aung San as a backdrop, what could be better. For now the photo remains embargoed along with all the others from this trip inside Burma, including NLD leaders and dissidents, for the book which I’m hoping will be out at the end of the year. Stay tuned and i hope you can all join me in Rangoon for the launch. We then decided to shoot some more with Tai Chi Toe, her pet dog given to her by her son Kim. The VOGUE magazine article leads with one of the images I managed to capture before Tai Chi Toe decided it was time to chase imaginary rabbits in the garden and so I took the opportunity to take a few portraits of the Lady at home. It was no surprise when she adopted her now famous pose so beautifully captured in my friend Nic Dunlop’s powerful black and white portrait from 1996. I showed him the images soon after out of guilt that I had somewhat inadvertently re-created his classic moment in time, but his sincerity in response was re-assuring. But perhaps it also shows something much deeper, that nothing has changed in Burma and that this Lady is still as strong and relevant to the country’s future as she has always been. The Generals and many foolhardy world leaders, academics and businessmen would do well to take note. Before I knew it, it was time to leave and step back into the real world once more, or rather the very unreal world that the people of Burma must face every day. We joked about the not so secret service watching and waiting outside before saying our goodbyes. With everything hidden and also already on its way out I took one last look around this magical place before tightening my longyi and driving away through the bright yellow gates. No frantic chase, no flying market stalls. Maybe nothing achieved other than personally. Only Time will tell.

A final message from Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on helping Burma:

The hardest thing about it was that I could be here at all when my beloved and so many of my very close friends and colleagues could not. For them just returning to Burma let alone the chance to meet Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not an option. A swift return to Insein is what the regime would provide should they try. But they were with me here in spirit – every single one of them and like the Lady herself continues to re-iterate, as do I, it’s not about us. It’s about the political prisoners. This whole long journey has been possible because of them and I owe everything to everyone of them, both those incarcerated and those freed. It is their story, not mine. I’ve just had the privilege of trying to tell it and one day I hope we can all enjoy sharing it over tea with the Lady.

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Burma’s Defiance: The Non Violent Revolution For Change

New Work Part 1

Burma’s non-violent revolution for change, as Aung San Suu Kyi called for just days after her release from house arrest, continues inside Burma and in exile as former student leaders, political prisoners, human rights defenders and activists continue the struggle for democracy against the tirade of brutality and oppression dealt by Burma’s ruling regime.

This ongoing long term project will document those leading the non-violent revolution for change in Burma both inside the country and in exile with a mixture of portraits and documentary. Currently the majority of work from inside Burma is embargoed to protect the security of those involved with only some able to be shown.

View the first instalment of work on BURMA’S DEFIANCE

Bo Kyi, Joint Secretary of the AAPP, was jailed for 7 years due to his political activities.

Aung San Suu Kyi and the people of Burma have chosen the route of non-violence in order to bring about change in Burma. Many would argue that it is a fight that cannot be won against a regime that uses weapons at will, but here in this article, Mark Kurlansky, best selling author of ‘Nonviolence: the History of a Dangerous Idea’ tells how it will eventually prevail in Burma.

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