Covering Shwe Dagon in gold
The Shwedagon Zedi Daw is a nexus point for Myanmar’s Buddhists. It’s history goes back more than 2600 years and it is an amazing place of humanity, faith and spirituality. The main stupa is sheathed in gold foil as are many of the parapets and other buildings on the grounds. I went there twice when I visited Myanmar in 2010 and think I could return many more times and always find new things catching my eye. On my second visit, I watched these workers gilding a new, or maybe restored, tower. It was a hot day and while one gentleman found a ball cap to be sufficient protection, the other preferred a more encompassing head cover. This was detailed work and they were attentive to the task at hand. I had to wait a little while until one of them looked up from the tower and glanced out over the crowds walking around Shew Dagon.
Yangon’s Chinatown Market
This evening I was working with some images from a trip in 2010 to Myanmar. I put together this small set from a walk along one of the market streets in Yangon’s Chinatown. People worked, shopped, talked and lived on this street. Vibrant, crowded, loud and unusual were some of the thoughts I recall from this stroll on my first day in the country.
(click for a slideshow of the images)
Ox carts in Bagan
Last year when I was traveling in Myanmar we spent several days on the plains of Bagan. The dry season had a firm grip on the land and the fields and dirt roads erupted dust trails with any traffic passing through. These clouds of dust drew our attention to a small village where we talked with several of the farmers and cart drivers.
In the afternoon, the light was warm and there were nice images available with a nod or a smile from one of the villagers serving as approval to click the shutter.
At the suggestion of one of the farmers, we agreed to meet them in the early evening at one of the nearby fields that spread out from an impressive temple ruin.
This last image came as the ox teams were heading back to their homes. The grandpa and grandson took turns looking back as the rising dirt kicked up by hoof and wheel wrapped the carts and rose upwards.
Inle Lake: Jumping up a step
A girl runs toward a friend along a stilt bridge on the edge of Inle Lake in Myanmar. The bridge extends a couple of hundred metres into the lake to allow boats to dock year round regardless of high water during the rainy season or the opposite extreme in the summer. There was a community of a dozen or more stilt houses and floating gardens at the lake end of the bridge so it no doubt serves as the primary link for these children to their school and friends.
These two girls were laughing while running back and forth across the bridge. I was there for the sunset but it was fun to have the youthful energy spilling all over. I like the blue hues in this image contrasted primarily by the clothing of the girl who is jumping up the step.
Mandalay: an afternoon in a street market
Throughout Asia, markets are a big part of daily life in a way very different from our malls. I romanticize them a bit when I’m touring through my memories of trips to and living in Thailand, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Myanmar. However, every time I return, I head straight for the nearest night market, food bazaar, or whatever to get a feel for the place and the people. Just about a year ago, I was in Mandalay in central Myanmar and in a bid to escape the afternoon heat, I lingered in this corridor set off to the side of a very large market in the city.
Just a really cool spot to spend a couple of hours. The kids were a ton of fun but pretty elusive – they welcomed me to take their picture but weren’t interested in staying still for even a fraction of a second. No worries, we shared some laughs and I had some really good tea from the lady with the pink food (but I didn’t give that one a try).
2010 – My favourite photograph from last year
This is my favourite image that I made last year. Simple composition, interesting patterns, good colour and a great memory behind it.
These monks worked with our small group on and around the U Bein Bridge in Amarapura in Myanmar. We had gone to their monastery and spoke with the Abbott and then with these monks about the photographs that we wanted to make that afternoon. They were interested to see the end result and really cooperative through the whole time.
The footbridge runs 3/4 of a mile long and is made of teak columns salvaged in 1849 under the direction of the mayor at the time, U Bein. He got a bridge named after him and the people got a way to cross Lake Taungthaman from Amarapura to an island in the middle. The traffic is steady in both directions in the afternoon and into the evening with school children, workers, families and monks crossing on foot and bicycle.
Our guide, Win, used one of the boats that take tourists for a float along the bridge to ferry the monks to a small spit of land about halfway between either end of the bridge. At this time of the year, in February, the water is low enough that there are a couple of places that stay above the waterline around the bridge. In the dry season, I was told the lake can be almost empty. In the wet season, the water has been higher than the walkway! I hope to get back to see either of these extremes. From the little island there is a set of stairs that lead up to the bridge deck. The monks and our guide went up and our group of four photographers headed away from the bridge to frame the scene the way each of us were imagining. The sun was dropping slowly at that point and I was starting to get excited because the light was warming up and I was hopeful that we were heading towards something special.
The scene on the bridge was chaotic and our guide was busy explaining to the people lingering around what we were up to, why the monks were standing between the pylons and when we were hoping to get a break in the traffic. The crowd built up slowly but everyone was patient and seemed to enjoy watching us waving and shouting back and forth to get the men on the bridge in place.
Win was fantastic sharing what we were doing with the people as they waited, and they in turn were great, waiting for about 10 minutes on both sides while the sun fell in line with the monks and the bridge. It moved very quickly and as it did the gold colour in the sky gave way to blue and purple tones as the sunlight had to push through more atmosphere as well as the haze rising up from the water and the forest.
The photograph immediately before my favourite was fun because I had just changed lenses to a 300mm with a 1.4x extender to get as much reach as I could. This was the first image where I was able to isolate the blue and purple section of the sky away from the golds and oranges. That allowed these darker colours to really saturate. That’s when I knew I had the background that I had imagined to frame the monks against.
The last shots of this scene caught the sun as it went under the bridge and then disappeared into the hillside across the plain. From the moment where the sun was just above the umbrellas to where it is peeking under the bridge took just over three minutes. It seemed much less as I was photographing the scene – a flurry of shooting, checking histograms and adjusting settings and compositions. It was a very special opportunity so I was doing everything to make sure that I was getting the best that I could out of the moment. A great memory of a wonderful place.
Street Vendor – a boy in Yangon
This boy was on the edge of Chinatown in Yangon, Myanmar. He was arranging the deep fried snacks in his basket and maybe taking a short break before continuing on. I presumed that he was heading around the corner towards a large crowd was watching dragon dancers perform but did not follow him. Looking at this photograph again, almost a year later, I was struck by a number of the little details – the flip flop sandals, the crease in his shirt collar, the concrete blocks forming the sidewalk, even his raised pinky. It was an interesting scene to revisit.
2010 Favourite Photographs – People
Nuns at prayer in a convent in the Sagaing Hills in Mandalay, Myanmar in Southeast Asia.
In 2010, I made a goal that I wanted to photograph people more. My first love is nature photography (landscapes and wildlife) but the more portraiture, street and travel photography that I do, the more I enjoy it. To support this extension of my art, I have attended lighting workshops, read a wheelbarrow full of books, tried to spend more time photographing humans and shared some of the knowledge gained with other photographers in my ecosystem.
Much to learn and practice yet but 2010 was a good step forward. I’m excited to build on this momentum and see where the people I photograph in 2011 take me.
Here are some of my favourite images from last year.
My trip to Myanmar in February was a really wonderful experience. Photographically, this land is fantastic for the variety of people, cultures, landscapes and other opportunities. Here I wandered through Yangon’s Chinatown and was able to have a few good conversations with the residents as they spoke Mandarin as a first language instead of Burmese.
I was fascinated by these young men who ran blocks of ice from trucks, up the cobblestone street to these ice crushers and then back down to the dock for the fish to be packed in. Very hard work done barefoot without any breaks through the morning while the fish are being shipped out around the city and beyond.
This marble carver in Amarapura works in his family’s yard along a street filled with stonemasons. These craftspeople create incredible statues from the alabaster mined from the hills in the surrounding Mandalay area. Again, very hard work.
The monks of Southeast Asia are magnets for many photographers, and I was no exception. I thoroughly enjoyed talking with many of these men that I met and loved photographing them in their surroundings.
A very kind man who I gestured and chatted with briefly in Old Bagan after he motioned me over to have a look at my camera. He was happy to let me photograph him and gave this picture a nod when I showed him the screenshot.
Probably the coolest guy I met in Myanmar. This gentleman had a group of younger monks and lay people circling him and they were having an animated conversation which I enjoyed watching as much as I enjoyed making this photo.
The younger monks line up to receive offerings from the community, grateful for the dedication of these boys and men to the faith they all share. The food collected is distributed among the monks and eaten in silence. A large portion is distributed outside the brotherhood to the less fortunate who wait patiently for the monks to hand it out. There is a dignity among even the poorest which can be glimpsed in the photograph of the man below but I was not able to wholly present here.
The monks showered using metal bowls. A fast shutter speed froze the droplets and the motion of this simple action.
In Amarapura while walking through a monastery, I looked in on this monk as he swept the courtyard seemingly lost in the repetition.
My children always figure prominently in what I’m up to and here are just a couple of what could be a near infinite series of photos of them through the year.
A couple of black and white portraits to complete this set.
Thank you for scrolling through a few of the highpoints of the year with me.
Inle Lake Fishermen in National Geographic Traveler Magazine
I just received the latest issue of the National Geographic Traveler magazine and was excited to see one of my photographs and a short essay on the back page.
Short story behind the publication: Kathie Gartrell, Managing Editor – Interactive, at Traveler had contacted me in October asking me to send in a caption to accompany an image that I had submitted to the My Shot section of the National Geographic website. She said that they were considering it as a photo of the week on the Traveler website. I was very excited and I submitted a brief essay right away. Then at the end of October, I received an email from Ben Fitch, a Photo Intern at Traveler. He told me that they had just finished the layout for the January/February issue and they needed a higher resolution of the image. The photo did run as a photo of the week in November. And has been printed in the current issue of Traveler. Not sure how it went from a possible photo of the week to a full page image and text in the magazine but I’m certainly very happy. Although I haven’t met Kathie or Ben, I would like to thank them for the help they had in publishing this image.
Here is a scan of the page from the magazine with the picture.
Now I’ve set my sights on being sent by National Geographic to photograph a story somewhere in this wonderful, crazy world.
Saturday Morning Monks
Up early with the kids this morning and I had a little time to revisit some photographs I made of some monks inside a weathered temple in Bagan.
I like how the monotone changes neutralize the dominance of the colourful robes and put different emphasis on part of the image.
(as always, click on the photograph to see a larger version)
I remember it was about 38° C outside but with the thick stone walls of the building, inside it was much cooler aided by a soft breeze (which you can “see” if you look at the blur in the robes of the rightmost monk).
These files were converted into a duotone of silver and dark grey using Adobe Lightroom’s split toning feature.
Shortlisted Images for the Travel Photographer of the Year Competition
The Travel Photographer of the Year awards have announced their shortlist and I have images in the hunt across three categories. The TPOTY is a major competition out of the UK so it is pretty exciting to have some of my work recognized to this stage.
The image of the monks on the bridge at sunset in Amarapura in Myanmar is one of three images that are in the running for the single shot category. The nuns at prayer and the lone fisherman are the other images that have been shortlisted in this category.
The following four images are finalists for the World in Motion portfolio category.
The last set is a really fun category to be shortlisted in. It is the New Talent category. The portfolio I entered was for Bagan in central Myanmar. The objective was to sell a location, a journey or an idea. From the TPOTY website: “Tell the story of a place, a destination, an experience, a journey, even a travel commodity, but sell it to us. Make us want to experience it. This category is for photographers looking to start a career in photography. Your images should give the judges a real sense of the place or travel experience and entice them too. This is your travel advert.” I tried to share the wonder of Bagan across the four images. It was an interesting exercise to cull through all of the photographs I made in Bagan and select four that provided a window into the people and the land.
With this competition’s international profile, there are many very high quality entries so it is exciting to have a range of work reach the final round. The winning images will be announced in the next couple of weeks so we’ll see what happens.
Encounters on Inle Lake
I am preparing entries for the Travel Photographer of the Year contest and reworked some of my images from Inle Lake in Myanmar that I made in February.
I have done a couple of posts (here and here and here) on these fishermen before. I still really enjoy this collection of images from the three days I spent on the lake.
Very good people I met on the water. I look forward to the next encounters I have on Inle somewhere down the road.