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.
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)
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
In Amarapura while walking through a monastery, I looked in on this monk as he swept the courtyard seemingly lost in the repetition.
Thank you for scrolling through a few of the highpoints of the year with me.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Very good people I met on the water. I look forward to the next encounters I have on Inle somewhere down the road.
I put together this set of images for a gallery show I may have the chance to do. It was fun to look through these images of people I met and was able to photograph when I went to Myanmar in February.
It’s a big world filled with incredible people, I’m looking forward to meeting some more of them soon.
Here’s the link to the webpage with the gallery of images.
With this photograph, I used the split toning controls within Adobe Lightroom’s Develop Panel to make a different looking image. I converted the image to black and white then used the split toning section to set the colours that I wanted to use to tone the image (a grey-blue for the shadows and a grey-gold for the highlights). Using the sliders to tweak the hue and saturation of these tones, I was able to bring a subtle, metallic sheen to this monk’s skin. I had this look in mind recently which has a very different feel from the original, colour image which has warm earthy tones.
Here is a more typical look that I like in my black and white work
In the original, the dust in air has warmed the light and given a glow to everything.
I like how you can use great light to create different versions of the same image. I’m still not sure which one I prefer. Colour is pretty consistently a main theme in my images but I like the glow and the slightly metallic look in the split toned edition.
I went down to Thiri Mingalar fish market and dock area located in the Kyee Myindine township of Yangon just before sunrise. The early morning haze coming off of the Hline river and the low cloud cover diffused the sunlight and spoiled me with great light to photograph with.
The market was a cacophony of people, fish, boxes, chattering, yelling, smoking and running. All of this began well before daybreak and was in full swing, flowing all around me as I wandered along the cobble stone streets and concrete docks.
I spent most of the morning following the flow of ice around the dock and the market. Given the heat and the few refrigerated trucks, ice is understandably the grease that keeps the wheels spinning down there.
Large blocks of ice arrive in the back of covered trucks and get slid down a plank onto two-wheeled carts that are then pushed up about a block to a shed. Inside, there are a couple of old contraptions that crush the ice. Men shovel the ice into crates which are then loaded onto another set of carts. Men, mostly young guys, run these carts down the street, past the truck, and onto the dock. The whole operation is built on the enormous effort (and undoubtedly sore muscles) of these men and provided me with another definition of hard work.
The fish get sorted as they are unloaded and sit in baskets and coolers covered with ice until they are sold. After watching the fishermen and the wholesalers for more than an hour, I can assert that the fish baskets do not sit for long. Once they are sold, they are either carried by another group of runners to a truck, motorcycle or cart for delivery around the city or they are packed into sealed crates with fresh ice. I couldn’t confirm, but I am guessing they were being sent a bit further afield or were purchased by higher end customers who paid extra for the relative luxury of clean, cold transport.
Mandalay is known throughout Asia for their artisans. The area’s stonemasons have earned a reputation for their exquisite work with marble.
Our guide took us to a street in Mandalay that is a centre for marble carving. The street is packed with workshops with carvers mostly working on Buddha statues of all sizes.
The statues are lined up, in various states of completion, at the front of most of the shops.
Masks are not part of the uniforms and the fine dust created by the power chisels and grinders they use hangs heavy around most workshops.
Marble is mined in quarries near Mandalay in the Sagyin hills. The best of this stone is alabaster, very fine quality marble which most of these carvers were working with along the road.
When a statue is ready to be moved for painting or to be delivered nearby, a cart like the one below is often used.
For shipments to more distant clients, the statues are framed in wood and then wait to be loaded on flatbed trucks.
At one end of this road, a low slung building housed woodworkers, which provided the single exception to the marble work packed on this dusty street running for several city blocks in the middle of this sprawling city.
Here too Buddha remained the focus of most of the carvings, but there were a few different statues lined up on one wall outside.
One more incredible location in Myanmar that I am already looking forward to getting back to again.
This is the second part of the Inle Lake Edges of the Day series. These photos were taken around sunset during two evenings spent out on the water.
It was a lot of fun working with the falling light levels and exposing to reveal different amounts of detail from pure black silhouettes to overexposed reflections in the water. Many different ways to shoot these scenes, I could stay there for another couple of weeks and not get bored just working with these guys.
Inle Lake is a lake unlike any I have been to before. I was there for three days in February and each morning I went out on a longtail canoe on the smooth water and explored the lake, looking to capture some of the stillness and calm that preceded the sun climbing over the hills that rise above the eastern shoreline. Here are some of the images from those mornings on the lake with the fishermen.
We maneuvered our canoe around the fishermen to work with and into the light. Using longer lenses, we kept far enough from the men that we were not affecting their fishing. Through our guide, we were told that these gentlemen did not mind us photographing them, they just thought it was strange that we found them so interesting. Seeing the world through the lens continues to be an amazing way to experience life.
A short post with a link to a web gallery of my first set of favourites from my trip to Myanmar in February.
* If you can’t open the link, please scroll down to see the set.
More to come as I am still working through the library of images I came home with.
Thanks for checking out the blog and the images.
* The link is to a Flash based slideshow so for those viewing on an iPhone, iPad or other device that does not support Adobe’s Flash, I have included the images from the slideshow below.
In Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, lies the Chaukhtatgyi Temple which houses an enormous reclining Buddha. We traveled to the temple, enjoyed looking at the impressive statue but moved on to the focus of our first day in Myanmar, the monastery attached to the temple. The monastery houses monks both young and old. It is comprised of a collection of wooden buildings that serve as dorms, classrooms, eating halls and meditation spaces. We met the senior monk who offered to let us photograph some of the younger monks while they studied their scriptures.
Here is the senior monk in his living quarters on the second floor of one of the dormitories.
This group of boys were in one long, sparsely furnished room. The students were scattered around the room sitting, standing or laying down on the dark wooden floor reading their books with levels of interest which varied from passive up to completely focused. The younger boys seemed to be more the former with the older boys able and willing to devote complete attention.
The monk teaching these boys was a stern taskmaster. While I do not speak Burmese, when he was not pleased with one of the students, it was very clear that whatever they were doing was wrong and should be quickly corrected. He didn’t chasten often while we were there but when he did, the student under scrutiny amended the error immediately. While some of the boys stole a glance, or even a smile, while the five of us photographers moved among them, they kept alternately reading and chanting as they had done before we entered the room.
It was an incredible scene to photograph. Made all the more enjoyable as it was a window into the normal, daily lives of these young monks. Definitely a world away from Canada and it set a very high bar photographically for the tour, coming on the first day at the first location we visited. Hats off to Art Wolfe, Gavriel Jecan and our guide, Win-Kyaw Zan for this and many other great cultural locations.
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…