PHOTOGRAPHING BURMA EBOOK

PHOTOGRAPHING BURMA EBOOK

I'm proud to announce that my book on Photographing Burma is now available for download at the iBooks store.  If you’re wondering which temples in Bagan are the best for sunrise and sunset, if you want to know what’s the best way to shoot sunrise and sunset at Golden Rock, or if you just want to be inspired by beautiful images of Burma then you’ll find plenty in this book to help you plan your trip to Burma.

Alongside over 120 images I’ve tried to pass on as much of what I learned while photographing this breathtaking country as possible with advice on photogenic places to visit and tips on some of the practicalities like when the locations are best photographed and how to get there.  With every image I’ve provided a description of where and how and, where possible, why the image was taken and what I was hoping to achieve when photographing the scene.  
While by no means a definitive guide to every location in Burma, the book nevertheless is a great starting point for any trip to Burma, and with that in mind I hope that both the images and information here will provide inspiration and some solid advice about visiting and photographing this truly wonderful country.  

MYANMAR PART 7: NGAPALI

MYANMAR PART 7: NGAPALI

Ngapali, in Burma's Rhakine state on the west coast of the country, was our last stop on our trip around Burma.  We'd chosen it because we thought that after 2 weeks of traveling around Burma (as well as Bangkok) it would be great to just unwind on a beach next to the ocean for a few days.  

It wasn't just about doing nothing though.  We'd chosen accommodation at the very southern end of the long beach right next to a local village, giving me the opportunity to photograph the fishermen and villagers bringing the fish in at sunrise and sunset.

The flight in, on perhaps the smallest plane we went on throughout the trip, took us over huge swathes of the forest of Rhakine state.  It's a fascinating, but troubled part of the country which has seen conflicts between the state army and local separatists who've disputed this area for years.  The area is also home to one of the largest undisturbed forests in south east Asia, which runs for almost a thousand kilometers to the border with Bangladesh in the north.  

MYANMAR PART 6: BAGAN

MYANMAR PART 6: BAGAN

After spending three hours at dawn on the top terrace of Shwesandaw pagoda we were hungry and ready for breakfast.
The terrace had been packed for sunrise, but immediately after the sun came up a lot of people had disappeared and it was easier to move around and take in the views across the plain in different directions.  By the time we left some local kids had come to the top of the temple and were hustling the tourists, selling postcards and posing for photos 

We saw more kids hustling in Bagan than anywhere else in Burma, which isn't surprising really as it's one of Burma's most popular and long established tourist attractions.  On leaving the hotel after breakfast to explore the temples a young girl immediately approached us and after (very sweetly) asking us if we'd like to buy some postcards, proceeded to pull a brand new Penguin paperback of Orwell's Burmese Days from her dress and ask us if we'd like to buy it.  She said it was "very good" and I asked her if she'd read it, to which she smiled in a kind of you-know-I'm-not-being-strictly-honest kind of way and said "Yes, of course.  It's very good."
In all the time we were in Burma we never found these encounters tiresome or awkward.  The kids were always polite and not particularly persistent, and it never felt like a pressure, but at the same time it is sad that the kids don't go to school because they can make money selling to tourists.

MYANMAR PART 5: SUNRISE AT BAGAN

MYANMAR PART 5: SUNRISE AT BAGAN

Back when we first started looking into this trip, when we'd decided to go to Asia but weren't sure which country yet, the more I looked at Burma and saw places like Golden Rock and Inle, the more I wanted to go there.  However, it was seeing photos of Bagan and reading descriptions of the vast plain covered with thousands of ancient temples that really made us decide "We have to see this place!"

Because of the route we'd chosen to travel around Burma Bagan was one of the last places on our itinerary, and despite all the amazing places we'd seen before there'd always been a sense of anticipation about finally getting to Bagan.
As it turned out, our plane landed at night and driving from the airport to our hotel in Old Bagan we couldn't really see much, just the odd tantalizing glimpse of a couple of large illuminated temples between the trees.

MYANMAR PART 4: MANDALAY

MYANMAR PART 4: MANDALAY

Mandalay.

The name itself evokes images of exotic places, far away lands.  It's one of those magical names like Sahara, Amazon and Himalaya, which when I was growing up seemed to belong to places so distant and foreign and alien that they couldn't really exist.

Of course, as I got older, and as my fascination with travel got stronger and deeper, I realized that these places are all real and that with a little will power and dedication it was perfectly possible to actually go there and see them.  Even so, Mandalay is a place name that everyone knows (thanks mostly to Kipling's poem, Road To Mandalay but I knew very little about.  As I researched it for the trip, I began to realize more and more that it would be a fascinating place to spend some time, the spiritual heart of Burma, more monks and nuns as a ratio of the population than anywhere else in the country, three former capital cities in Mandalay, Amarapura and Inwe (two suburbs/towns to the south) and a city with a huge amount of traditional craft and trade.

MYANMAR PART 3: LAKE INLE

MYANMAR PART 3: LAKE INLE

After leaving Yangon, we flew to Lake Inle in the highlands of Shan State.  It was one of those places that when I was researching Burma, couldn't believe really existed.  A huge lake populated with floating villages, entire communities living on the lake, it looked amazing.  Of course, there are already plenty of photographs of the lake, and in particular, the fishermen who make their living there with their distinctive style of paddling with one leg, but I hadn't really seen much photography that gave me a clear impression of the different communities that lived there.

We arrived on a small plane from Yangon in late afternoon.  Internal flights in Burma really are an experience, your luggage is wheeled onto the the plane in a small cart, and then on arrival at your destination, it's wheeled into the arrivals hall and pretty much dumped on the floor.  Getting your luggage can be a bit of a free-for-all, and this was our first experience of it. By the time we left Burma, we'd made 4 more internal flights and were pretty much used to it.

MYANMAR PART 2: GOLDEN ROCK

MYANMAR PART 2: GOLDEN ROCK

Golden Rock on the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo was a place in Burma I was determined to get to as soon as we decided to go to Burma. I'd seen Steve McCurry's photo of it years before and it just fascinated me, and even though it was pretty awkward to get there with the limited time we had in Yangon, I thought it would be worth it.

Of course, to see it at it's best you have to be there for sunset and sunrise, and that means staying overnight at the top, which proved to be easier said than done. There are a couple of small hotels next to the temple site, but before going we'd pretty much exhausted every means we had of booking a room.  We couldn't contact them at all via the telephone numbers and email addresses we had for them, but eventually a local travel agent (who we'd originally got in touch with to arrange internal flights) managed to arrange a room for us.

MYANMAR PART 1: YANGON

MYANMAR PART 1: YANGON

We'd been planning the trip to Burma for almost a year, and during that time had looked at hundreds of photos of different parts of the country as we attempted to plan out an itinerary, but nothing could have prepared us for the reality of the country. By the time we left, we were both convinced that it was without a doubt the most beautiful country we'd ever seen, populated by the warmest, most graceful people we'd ever met.

Our first view of the country was from the plane as we flew in from Bangkok. Looking down, the country seemed incredibly rural, full of fields and woods, and every few kilometers, scattered with golden temples. The stupas, covered with gold leaf, are dotted everywhere throughout the landscape, and they were to be a repeated motif throughout our journey across Burma. The place is deeply religious, and in one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, the people still dedicate so much of their time and meagre wealth to building and maintaining the temples.

TRAVELLING TO MYANMAR

TRAVELLING TO MYANMAR

There's something about traveling that just inspires photography.  It's wrapped up with the excitement of exploring new places and the sense of being on an adventure.  Returning to familiar locations is a good way of honing technique, but for me it's the thrill of encountering new places that really gets my creative juices flowing.

So tomorrow I'm off to Burma for 2 weeks, and I'm really excited. Excited to be experiencing a new culture and excited to be seeing some amazing new places.
Why Burma? Well, lots of reasons really. 
First of all, I wanted to go somewhere that wasn't just about landscapes.  My last trip to Iceland was fun, and I enjoyed shooting the amazing landscapes there, but when I compared it to trips to places like Morocco, it seemed a little...I don't know, unsatisfying.
I realized that the reason was that I'd really missed street photography, capturing images of people and immersing myself in the culture. That's why I fell in love with traveling in the first place.