One day in August 2016, I was having a meal with some friends from Yangon, when the talk turned to my hobbies of photography and creating artworks; this subsequently led to a request for me to give a talk to Myanmar high school students who had started learning photography.
Mr. Zaw Min, who worked and lived in Japan for 10 and several years, is fluent in Japanese and runs a travel agency in Myanmar; he is also engaged in a variety of activities as a photographer. Mr. Min is someone who actively works to connect Myanmar and Japan. He started commenting during the meal that, ever since he saw the Shashin Koshien, which is a nationwide high school student photo competition held annually in Higashikawa, Hokkaido, he’s been longing to hold a similar event in Myanmar. However, there are no photography clubs in Myanmar’s high schools; to be precise, there are practically no club activities at all. So, the first step was starting up some clubs.
Mr. Min had the idea of getting high school students in Myanmar to take part in the International High School Student’s Photo Festival Exchange this summer as a new opportunity, and was working hard to make it a reality; in fact, Myanmar’s participation was officially confirmed just the other day.
Every Wednesday and Saturday, Mr. Min teaches photography as a volunteer at an art school in Yangon. As there is no class majoring in photography there, he’s gathered together some painting major students who are interested in taking photos. The school has no photographic equipment though, and it’s easy to imagine how difficult it would be for the students to procure such equipment themselves. So Mr. Min called on his photographer friends and collected some of their old cameras for the students to use. After hearing about his noble aspirations, I also gathered some of my own cameras lying unused at my home, and together with the help of my friends in Japan, I was able to donate five digital single lens reflex cameras when I gave a talk to the students.
In my talk, which was interpreted by Mr. Min, I spoke for roughly two hours about what brought me to Myanmar, the defining picture that led me to start creating artworks, and the pictures taken at a specific timing and composition. I also discussed the wonder of coincidences in taking photos, and the local people I’d met and connections formed through my photography.
My talk was attended by Myanmar high school students and their teachers, as well as students and teachers of an art college in the suburbs of Yangon, and some of Myanmar’s photographers interested in me.
During my time in Myanmar taking photos and creating artworks, I’ve learnt and gained many things from the country. In return, for several years I’ve been serving as a board member of a local NPO operating in Myanmar.
The NPO supports the independence of people living in remote farming villages, where there is no access to medical care or education.
To be honest, I feel an ambivalence when I consider the gap in reality between supporting farming villages with barely any lifelines such as hospitals and schools, and providing assistance to a high school photography club. Nevertheless, as I’ve formed a connection with Myanmar and its people through taking photos, I also feel joy and a sense of purpose in whatever contribution I can make through photographic activities.
I hope to continue helping the people of Myanmar enjoy photography in their daily life.
I’ve been asked to speak next at an art college in suburban Yangon, and I’m thinking of also talking about the photo book I’m currently creating.
This photo was taken after my talk. In the background is a famous Chinese-style building in Yangon, which is used as a location for TV dramas and movies.