myanmar in bloom

myanmar in bloom is a photographic survey of the everyday lives of urban and rural myanmar residents during this epochal time of change. it is an attempt to capture the wide swath of people living in myanmar at a point in time from which there will be no turning back.  that point is one of development and technology. myanmar has remained largely closed off from the rest of the world for the past fifty years, and consequently has a beauty stemming from a lack of exposure to the vast expanse of digital media and the hyper-attentiveness to self-image that comes with it. my experience photographing in myanmar is that the residents were not worried about what they looked like– they were not watching themselves being watched. this is in stark contrast to the total media absorption in countries like the usa, and the loss of human connection and distorted self images i believe result.  

yet myanmar is on the cusp of change in this regard. when i traveled there in 2013 there was scarcely any internet. if you could actually connect at all. the government of myanmar’s statistics estimate internet access at .8 percent of the population in 2010, and cell phone use in myanmar in 2012 at 9 percent of the population, and very few of these are smart phones, which are largely useless without data networks in most of the country. the government of myanmar wants to raise the cell phone penetration to 75-80 percent over the next 3 years.  in 2013 contracts were signed to develop myanmar’s mobile phone and data networks by norwegian telenor group and ooredoo of qatar, which will usher in a unprecedented period of social media and connectedness to the world that exists outside.

the pace at which the people and face of myanmar will change will be revolutionary.  other than north korea, there is no country in the world that has existed so closed off to the rest of the world, and now a new era of technology will bring with it social and economic changes that we cannot fully predict. i traveled to myanmar october and november of 2013, not knowing what to expect from the culture and people there. what i discovered upon arrival was nothing short of heartwarming and awe-inspiring. the depth of humanity in the people i met and spoke with, and the welcoming and trust i received were like nothing i had ever experienced.

i have always been inspired by and aspire towards the evocative power the work of w. eugene smith has. smith once remarked about how, as photographers, we must have a strong and deep sense of humanity, that we must not become ‘miners of misery.’ my own struggles with suicidal thought and depression, and ensuing battles with overcoming these obstacles fuel my attention to the human condition and feed my empathy and connection to the people i photograph.