An excerpt from an article telling of the hard angles and personal journey of Myanmar photographer Yu Yu Myint Thant that has published in the April-May Edition of Elite+.
By Philip Jablon
It wasn’t an inborn urge that brought Yu Yu Myint Thant to photography. The emerging artist from Yangon didn’t discover her love for the medium until she was on the cusp of 30, and then only by accident.
While living in Hong Kong as a foreign exchange student (2009 -2010), leisure trips to a nearby public park offered her a refuge from the rigours of the classroom, a cramped apartment and a part-time job that she squeezed in on the side.
“At the time it was so new for a Burmese girl to sit in a public park alone,” explained Yu Yu from the cosy confines of her central Yangon apartment, where most of her photo developing takes place. “I felt so free there.”
For a Southeast Asian woman sitting alone in a Hong Kong park, however, idle time would often turn awkward. “The neighbourhood I lived in had a lot of immigrant workers who mistook me for a house-maid looking for sex work as a second job. Sometimes men would give me a little piece of paper when I was sitting in the park. At first I didn’t know what it was, but then I realized they thought I was looking for sex work.”
Instead of allowing the experience to turn her off the urban oasis, Yu Yu turned to the camera as a way to distinguish herself.
“It was my first time overseas and I didn’t know how to react, so I started bringing my little point and shoot camera. Taking pictures. Pretending I was a tourist.”
The strategy worked. Would-be sex seekers kept their distance and in the process Yu Yu discovered she had a knack for photography. A knack which soon grew into an increasingly serious hobby.
By the time she returned to Myanmar in 2011, photography had become a definitive part of her repertoire. One, albeit, with remote career prospects. She had no formal training or network to tap into. A series of aborted documentary projects came and went, rattling her confidence but strengthening her resolve to keep taking pictures. “Photography gave me a reason to meet and talk with new people,” said Yu Yu. “As a naturally introverted girl, I began to feel more confident with photography. More articulate, more expressive.”
Family pressure to settle down with a secure, middle-class job likewise weighed on her. “The more they wanted me to stop, the more I wanted to shoot,” she mused.
Full commitment came in 2014 after being accepted to an international reportage seminar facilitated by Myanmar Deitta Gallery in Yangon (where she’s since become a partner). The project she developed out of it, exploring friendship between Muslims and Buddhists in Myanmar’s “dry zone” – a section of the country reeling from sectarian conflict – was the first that she saw through to its completion.
“From then on, I realized that I wanted to be a photographer.”