Picture images of Myanmar and you will likely think of hot-air balloons floating over Bagan or fishermen in the dawn on Lake Inle. Who would imagine the 114-metre-high Shwemawdaw in Bago, Myanmar’s highest paya, in the pouring rain, or the Golden Rock in the harsh light of midday?
The problem for me was the latter were the kind of shots I would get. I did not go in the best seasons, could not wait for the right light. My job was to go wherever possible and create online guides to encourage anyone with an ASEAN-based or international driving licence to fly to Myanmar and, on arrival, pick up a car from Yomacarshare.com. Pictures were not part of the job description.
In my travels to and between places as far apart as Dawei in the south, Sittwe in Rakhine and Taunggyi in Shan State to the east, I saw Buddha images large and small, in elegant posture alone or massed in thousands. I saw pagodas, ancient cities and rural villages. I went to beaches, caves, karsts and waterfalls. Yet, in the end, it was the people who struck me more than the places.
The best photographs of Myanmar’s people felt like the ones I didn’t or couldn’t take: folks at the side of the road, in city streets, the chance to capture the moment lost in the time it took to pull up the car or activate the camera, the spontaneity that might vanish when subjects saw the lens pointing in their direction.
But there were also chance encounters, when folks seemed unconcerned with the camera. Perhaps they understood it only recorded outward form. Here are a few pictures that seemed to happen while their subjects were doing something else.