By SAN LIN TUN
independent media development organisation Internews and National Geographic have been organising “photo camps” to teach and train photographers around the world. The two highly respected international organisations set up camp in Mandalay from August 27 to 31 to train 21 aspiring photographers from across the country.
The students were tasked with documenting the lives of the people in the region through their lenses.
Last Friday, the photographs of these students were exhibited in downtown Yangon. From 9am, guests, photography enthusiasts, support groups and some of the trainees wandered through the Pansuria Art Gallery to enjoy the showcase.
The photo camp’s theme was diversity and harmony to reflect the situation in the country inhabited by 135 ethnic groups. Mandalay was chosen because it is a diversity hotspot where culture, ethnic groups, and religions, intermingle. The photographs exhibited were quite different from the usual perspectives about Mandalay.
The 21 participants between 18 and 25 were selected from over 400 applicants based on the potential they showed as photographers. The selection also reflected the diversity and harmony in the country with the participants chosen from different states, regions, religions, and genders.
The participants took over 40,000 photographs for the duration of the workshop depicting different communities around Mandalay in the hope that people learn to appreciate the value of diversity and harmony through this exhibition. The exhibits will also be displayed in other parts of Mandalay.
Ma Thinza Aung, a teaching assistant-cum-monitor, shared the experience she gained during the training. She said that five days ahead of the photo camp participants needed to look for the places where they could take photographs that might be suitable for the camp.
She related that they carefully selected the location to ensure diversity.
Ma Thinza Aung said the photo camp was not only to learn about photography but also to study the diverse cultures and lifestyles of the different ethnic groups in the country. As a result, the participants decided that they should go to places different from those that are frequently photographed and already well-known or familiar to people.
The camp also ensured that the participants tooks photographs in communities which were new to them. For example, Christian participants were required to take photographs in a Buddhist monastery.
Ma Thinza Aung said many of the participants were nervous at first because they feared that they might do something to offend their subjects. They were also at a loss as to what photographs they should take.
But, with the support and encouragement of the trainers, the assignments were successfully accomplished.
The trainees learned how to communicate with subjects and established a rapport with them so they were able to take good photographs.
Thet Paing Dwe, one of the participants from Thanlyin city in Yangon Region, admitted he had difficulties taking photographs of Muslim communities, as he was not familiar with their norms.
But by communicating with his subjects, he was able to learn more about their way of life and was able to capture this in his photographs. He also said that he was able to build friendships with co-participants and had a chance to study more about the different cultures and communities of the ethnic groups in the country for the duration of the workshop.
Arkar, also known as Aye May Zan, from Rakhine state, who professed to initially preferring to write over taking photographs, said that when she was assigned to take photographs of a fisherman at U Bein Bridge, she unexpectedly found out that she and the fisherman have different religions. But, she became friendly with him and his family, which eventually dispelled misconceptions she had about his community. Through constant communication with her subject, she was able to take candid photos about his way of life.
The exhibition showcased 60 photos taken by 21 photographers who captured images of diverse locations and subjects.
Among the subjects are stone carvers, fabric dyeing workers, scenery around U Bein Bridge and Thaungthaman Lake, laundry workers and their environs, religious themes such as nuns, monks, monasteries, mosques, and the Muslim community.
The photo exhibition is open to the public at Pansuria Art Gallery at No (100), Bogalay Zay Street, from October 5 to 15 (9am to 5pm) .
San Lin Tun is a freelance writer who writes essays, poems and short stories.