by Birgit Neiser, Myanmar traveler and photographer, www.photos-unlimited.com/
It is a challenge, a broadening of perspective, a way of life, an obsession, an art, a pleasure. You may perhaps think that I am referring to traveling in Myanmar, but in actual fact I’m talking about photography – with regard to Myanmar, however, these characteristics happily apply to both subjects. This complex and multifaceted country and the photography it allows for fuse into one.
Many travelers prefer not to take too many photos lest they be distracted from the “authentic” travel experience. They wish to assimilate and digest the details of the land and its people, of the changing moods of cityscapes, nature scenes and the times of the day with their own senses, that is to say not from the clinical perspective of the lens. The camera for them is a millstone around their neck which disturbs in its truest sense the inner peace.
I see it differently however. The lens is my third eye, which allows me to observe more clearly. It is the longstanding companion to my curiosity, which encourages me to pause and linger awhile, to regard things more closely. That is not to say this would not occur without my camera, merely that with it I frequently dwell longer in one place and also return to the same spot time and again; with it I journey deeper into the scene before me, sometimes quite literally as I bend down to change the angle of the camera. Photography has a lot to do with patience and waiting; it is a contemplative exercise, yet one which at the same time demands lightning-quick reactions should the right moment, the so-called “decisive moment”, present itself for a fraction of a second.
This process can be expressed quite simply in mathematical terms: if we assume that I take on average 125 photos a day with an average shutter speed of 1/500 of a second (preferably with a high ISO setting), then per day, my photographic documentation of “my Myanmar” equates to only a quarter of a second! Although this sounds like nothing, this tiny snippet of reality helps me and the viewer to gain a vivid insight into what I saw, as well as awakening the dormant memories and impressions of those who have already been there, and evoking certain feelings and emotions in those who are yet to come.
Although Myanmar is a veritable paradise for photographers, the attempt to document in this way an entire country in its innumerable guises counts ultimately as a vain (if not presumptuous) hope; luckily for me, however, it provides the perfect excuse to “have to” keep coming back.
A good documentary photographer must keep coming back to their chosen theme; as well as frequently revisiting locations at different times of the day or year, they must be prepared to follow and indeed accompany their photographic subjects over extended periods of time. The resulting images are first and foremost an homage to the country itself, in other words the landscapes, the cities, towns and villages and above all the people of Myanmar. The knowledge that you will be back and that you will be able to give people the prints of the photos you took of them during your last encounter is by far one of the greatest joys of the whole experience. If you were the first “Westerner” to have ever met the inhabitants of a village face to face, or indeed the first photographer to be allowed to take their picture, then it is rare privileges such as these which justify any expense or effort it may have cost you to get there.
Myanmar is changing rapidly these days – it will develop, for better or for worse. Whatever the case may be I am very much looking forward to capturing not only the current situation but also the further development of this wonderful country with my camera at my side. The more often I travel to Myanmar, the more I realize that I have only scratched the surface. The yet unknown areas and subject matters in Myanmar seem to grow exponentially with every trip….how wonderful.
See for yourself and see you there!