The Fishermen of Inle Lake

I returned from Myanmar with several thousand images to work through.  I was able to spend a fair amount of time editing while on the road but it has still taken a while to start ordering the different subjects into some cohesive groups.  The first one that I have completed is a set of graphic art style images made of the fishermen on Inle Lake.  I have made this into a book and am expecting my proof copy within a couple of days.

First, a little detail about Inle Lake, Inle is located in Shan state in central Myanmar and is at an altitude of 2800 feet.  The lake is about 14 miles long, 7 miles wide and has an average depth of seven feet (up to twelve in the rainy season) and is roughly 50 square miles in area.  It is large, shallow and filled with reeds that sit just under the surface – I never saw the bottom of the lake during our three days spent completely in boats and stilt buildings on the water.  There are about 70,000 people living on and around the lake.  Most live in stilt homes of all shapes, sizes and condition.  The streets to all of the villages, large and small, are predominantly canals.  While I was there, the dry season was in full swing and the water levels were very low which had the largest visible impact on the small villages where there narrow canals were just mud in many places.  Dredging was constant and, beyond a bit of rerouting and a few pushes from friendly villagers, our boats weren’t impeded too much.

The fishermen ply their trade all around the lake and the river mouths.  They all work off small, flat hulled oar powered boats that they stand in back to navigate and then fish off the tip of either end of the boat.  Most fishermen man their boats alone but occasionally I saw two fellows partnering on one skiff.  The boats are mostly made of teak wood and are about 15′ long and maybe 3′ wide.  What draws particular attention, is their method of rowing.  They stand up using one leg to balance on the canoe, wrap the other leg around their long oar and propel their boat using a kicking motion.  When they are intent on moving quickly, they keep one hand on the top of the oar and then drive oar wrapped leg hard which results in them moving pretty fast.  While fishing, they hook the oar with their leg so that they are free to fish using both hands and can still maneuver their craft with a high degree of dexterity.  They fish using a tall, conical net which they drop into the water when they see fish directly below them.  Once in place, they push it down into the ground with one foot, keeping the other foot on the canoe, and then use a spear to skewer the fish through a hole at the top of the net which sits above the waterline.  It is a wonderful display of balance and strength as these men work from early in the pre-dawn, through the day and into dusk.  There are a number of species in the lake that the fishermen catch.  Of these, the Inle Carp is abundant and forms a staple of the lake people’s diet.

I will post a blog of the lake people, detailing the lives lived on Inle in pictures but in this series, I wanted to play with the constantly changing shapes and compositions of these men as they worked the lake.  I focused on the angles and patterns created by the fishermen, the boats and the nets.  To create the graphic effect, I overexposed the shots while I was on the lake, then converted the images into black and white and adjusted the contrast in Adobe’s Lightroom later.  Shooting early in the morning, I worked in low contrast light mostly and was able to eliminate the horizon, the surrounding hills and other distracting background elements in camera via the overexposure approach.  These men were concentrated on the fish but tolerated our presence.  We provided the men photographed with a tip as we shot them for almost a half an hour.  They were not distracted by the cameras and I was pleased to be able to capture their regular movement which I found very appealing.

more to come…

One response

  1. Pingback: Encounters on Inle Lake « Chris Martin Photography

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