Review: Burmese Days: Documenting an Extraordinary Voyage of Discovery

Written on December 12, 2018, posted in News, Review

"Burmese Days" students, Rita Khin (photographing) and Ko Myo (looking on), under the mentorship of Philip Blenkinsop and Daniel Schwartz on the streets of Moulmein, Burma. December 2018. ©Philip Blenkinsop / VII

December 1, 2018 - December 7, 2018
Instructors: Daniel Schwartz, Philip Blenkinsop

Seven days with instruc­tors Daniel Schwartz and Philip Blenkinsop in Myanmar were spent observ­ing, build­ing con­fi­dence, and seek­ing out those spe­cial moments that as pho­tog­ra­phers we live for; doc­u­ment­ing them as they hap­pen, whether walk­ing the streets, jour­ney­ing by train, bus or boat or sim­ply sat at a tea shop watch­ing the world go by.

One of the best ways to learn any skill is by observ­ing mas­ter prac­ti­tion­ers at work.

That was the rea­son­ing behind offer­ing such this inti­mate work­shop expe­ri­ence; to ensure that par­tic­i­pants had the invalu­able oppor­tu­ni­ty to observe Daniel Schwartz and Philip Blenkinsop, sea­soned expo­nents of their art, at work in the field.

The abil­i­ty to pre-empt images and to frame, focus and shoot while mov­ing is an art best demon­strat­ed in such an envi­ron­ment.

Importantly, Daniel and Philip are gen­er­ous and non-possessive when it comes to the events unfold­ing around them; they encour­aged par­tic­i­pants to go for­ward and engage with peo­ple, cam­era in hand, while offer­ing con­struc­tive advice in real time.

The sev­en days were spent observ­ing, build­ing con­fi­dence, and seek­ing out those spe­cial moments that as pho­tog­ra­phers we live for, doc­u­ment­ing them as they hap­pen, whether walk­ing the streets, jour­ney­ing by train, bus or boat or sim­ply sat at a tea shop watch­ing the world go by.

It is these cap­tured frames that, when pieced togeth­er to form a whole, make each person’s road jour­nal a unique com­men­tary on a mem­o­rable jour­ney.

After trav­el­ling through Bago, Kyaktiyo, Hpa An and Moulmein, the work­shop cul­mi­nat­ed in an exhi­bi­tion and pre­sen­ta­tion of the maque­ttes of the jour­nal in Rangoon with many atten­dees from the local com­mu­ni­ty.

Please view the mas­ter­ful web­page that Philip put togeth­er to tell the sto­ry of this adven­ture and col­lab­o­ra­tive learn­ing expe­ri­ence among 5 enthu­si­as­tic stu­dents and 2 ded­i­cat­ed instruc­tors.

A selec­tion of the work and tes­ti­mo­ni­als of the 3 grant recip­i­ents of the work­shop are exhib­it­ed below.

Rita Khin

Rita Khin is a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­ph­er from Yangon, Myanmar and is a mem­ber of Thuma Collective, which start­ed in 2017 and includes five women pho­tog­ra­phers from Myanmar who are ded­i­cat­ed to visu­al sto­ry­telling.

Rita’s work pri­mar­i­ly cov­ers gen­der diver­si­ty, wom­en’s issues and LGBT relat­ed sto­ries. She most­ly cov­ers sto­ries on her own terms and often works for inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tions. She began her pho­tog­ra­phy career by attend­ing a doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy work­shop orga­nized by Yangon Photo Festival. Since then, she has been cul­ti­vat­ing her pho­tog­ra­phy work exten­sive­ly. She is now based in Yangon. www.ritakhin.com/home

“I decid­ed to apply for this work­shop because I want to push the lim­it I am fac­ing with pho­tog­ra­phy and do more of the things I thought that I can’t. I believe this work­shop was the one thing I need­ed to unlearn and relearn my per­spec­tives about pho­tog­ra­phy. It turned out to be bet­ter than I expect­ed. Those 7 days with the best men­tors, Philip and Daniel, were the best expe­ri­ences and [cre­at­ed] insight­ful moments for me.” - Rita Khin

Photo by Rita Khin
Photo by Rita Khin

“The trip begun with excite­ment and uncer­tain­ty. I have nev­er been on this sort of voy­age along­side with men­tors to teach me on the spot. This trip was much more thrilling with new things to learn which are even bet­ter than I had imag­ined. I was taught with new per­spec­tive on pho­tog­ra­phy, to see things and always be pre­pared and ready with my cam­era.

Evening din­ner time with alive con­ver­sa­tion are the time to reflect about our day and learn from expe­ri­ences. Philip and Daniel’s life sto­ries and expe­ri­ences are one of the best I love about this work­shop because that cre­ates more inti­mate and per­son­al close­ness with both of you rather than mentor/mentees rela­tion­ship.

Now I know what it feels like to wan­der around by myself with a bot­tle of water and my cam­era.  It’s not to learn about street photography/landscape pho­tog­ra­phy or any types of pho­tog­ra­phy. It’s beyond the types and labels. It’s about pure­ly lov­ing pho­tog­ra­phy and being there with your cam­era. I love this work­shop because I felt it brings me much clos­er to pho­tog­ra­phy and to under­stand more why pho­tog­ra­phy is with me and me with it. I crave more for this. I now keep won­der­ing around with cam­era wher­ev­er I go. I start shoot­ing tons of pho­tos as I walk along. (But of course, not in a mean­ing­less way of press­ing the shut­ter con­stant­ly and not know­ing what you are doing there.)

“Dear Philip and Daniel,

First of all, I would like to say thank you so much for choosing me to be part of Burmese Days Photography Workshop.

The trip begun with excitement and uncertainty. I have never been on this sort of voyage alongside with mentors to teach me on the spot. This trip was much more thrilling with new things to learn which are even better than I had imagined. I was taught with new perspective on photography, to see things and always be prepared and ready with my camera.

Evening dinner time with alive conversation are the time to reflect about our day and learn from experiences. Philip and Daniel’s life stories and experiences are one of the best I love about this workshop because that creates more intimate and personal closeness with both of you rather than mentor/mentees relationship.

Now I know what it feels like to wander around by myself with a bottle of water and my camera.  It’s not to learn about street photography/landscape photography or any types of photography. It’s beyond the types and labels. It’s about purely loving photography and being there with your camera. I love this workshop because I felt it brings me much closer to photography and to understand more why photography is with me and me with it. I crave more for this. I now keep wondering around with camera wherever I go. I start shooting tons of photos as I walk along. (But of course, not in a meaningless way of pressing the shutter constantly and not knowing what you are doing there.)
PB push­ing Rita out of her com­fort zone in Moulmein. © Daniel Schwartz / VII Photo

Besides, I also learnt to edit, sequenc­ing the images and things to keep in mind in advance for pho­to book. This 7 days of voy­age is the most insight­ful and amaz­ing turn-up in my pho­tog­ra­phy career. I am tru­ly grate­ful and thank­ful for both Daniel and Philip’s advice for me to improve in my approach­es to get good images.” -Rita Khin

Rita Khin introducing her work to the gathered audience for the "Burmese Days" exhibition on the final night in Rangoon. © Philip Blenkinsop / VII Photo
Rita Khin intro­duc­ing her work to the gath­ered audi­ence for the “Burmese Days” exhi­bi­tion on the final night in Rangoon. © Philip Blenkinsop / VII Photo

Ko Myo

Min Myo Nyan Win is a free­lance doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­ph­er, also known as Ko Myo in pho­tog­ra­phy cir­cles. He is from Burma and has been pho­tograph­ing a sto­ry about the wild ele­phants that are smug­gled in the coun­try since 2014. www.komyophoto.com

“In ear­ly November, I saw about the Burmese day work­shop on social media, so I went and read in detail about the work­shop on the VII Photo Agency web­site. I found that they have the schol­ar pro­gram for the work­shop. After I enquired, I knew I couldn’t afford it because I need to pay $500 and trav­el charges even if I received the schol­ar­ship. 

Luckily, I got a full schol­ar­ship to join the VII work­shop and learned about pho­tog­ra­phy, edit­ing pho­tos and mak­ing pho­to books, etc. I have lots of expe­ri­ences about shoot­ing pho­tos of wild ele­phants in Myanmar but I am not pro­fi­cient in shoot­ing pho­tos about peo­ple. I had many expe­ri­ences learn­ing how to take pho­to of peo­ple, and trav­el­ling expe­ri­ences from this work­shop. Therefore, VII Photo work­shop is a valu­able train­ing class for me. I am thank­ful to VII Photo and my dear Philip and Daniel.” - Ko Myo

Hpa An, Burma. Taken under the mentorship of Philip Blenkinsop and Daniel Schwartz during the 'Burmese Days' Roadtrip Workshop. December 2018
Hpa An. Thanlwin. © Ko Myo

“Ko Myo came to the work­shop with the rep­u­ta­tion of nev­er hav­ing tak­en an image of a human being in his life. Something of an in-joke among Burmese pho­tog­ra­phy cir­cles. “He can’t do it” his col­leagues would affec­tion­ate­ly say. Elephants were his sole focus and Daniel and I promised him that we would not find any ele­phants on the trip. Stepping up to the plate, he nailed some won­der­ful images and set about prov­ing all his crit­ics wrong.” - Philip Blenkinsop

“KoMyo came to the workshop with the reputation of never having taken an image of a human being in his life. Something of an in-joke among Burmese photography circles. 'He can't do it' his colleagues would affectionately say. Elephants were his sole focus and Daniel and I promised him that we would not find any elephants on the trip. Stepping up to the plate, he nailed some wonderful images and set about proving all his critics wrong.” - Philip Blenkinsop
Ko Myo intro­duc­ing his work to the gath­ered audi­ence for the “Burmese Days” exhi­bi­tion on the final night in Rangoon. ©Philip Blenkinsop / VII Photo

Tawatchai Pattanaporn

Tawatchai is 37 years old, and was born and grew up in Bangkok, Thailand. His inter­est in pho­tog­ra­phy start­ed after grad­u­at­ing from the archi­tec­ture depart­ment when he was 22 years old. Now, he runs an ana­log pho­tog­ra­phy lab in Bangkok, named “Patani Studio.”

“I’ve been fol­low­ing Philip Blenkinsop’s work since I began to take pho­to about 15 years ago when he was based in Thailand. All of his pub­lished works are won­der­ful, very hon­est, and emo­tion­al and exhib­it dif­fer­ent per­spec­tive of human being than oth­er pho­tog­ra­phers. It also inspires me to improve my skill over all these years.

Being part of this work­shop which was orga­nized as a road trip helped me real­ize the kind of mag­ic that his works pos­sess, what he’s look­ing for, his skill and his method to acquire the pho­to he wants. Philip worked real­ly hard dur­ing the work­shop to guar­an­tee the par­tic­i­pants would get the best out of it. I tru­ly admire his ded­i­ca­tion. He ush­ered us to push our­selves fur­ther. Whenever he had a chance he would give us advice on tech­nique that would fit each of us and we would spend some time prac­tic­ing togeth­er to make sure that we know how to use it. His approach to acquire high stan­dard pho­to has taught us not to com­pro­mise with any low­er stan­dard of qual­i­ty.

Daniel Schwartz believes in what he sees. He might not take any pho­to all day but he per­ceives and man­age his mem­o­ry by draw­ing them out. His way of describ­ing how the brain receives images was very inter­est­ing and pru­dent. His expe­ri­ence always trig­gered some­thing in our mind. His works, ele­gant and com­plete. He puts 2 or 3 pho­tos togeth­er and that changes the way we inter­pret his work, bring­ing new per­spec­tive into edit­ing and sequenc­ing pho­tos.

I’d like to share one spe­cial moment: when Daniel and I were walk­ing around and tak­ing pho­to at Golden Rock, Myanmar, Daniel point­ed to what was going on in front of us about 3 metres away. It was two young porters, behind them was an imi­ta­tion of a moun­tain. They were both squat­ting on the first step of stairs. After a while they stood up stretch­ing their arms and tor­so to dif­fer­ent sides. They made fun of each oth­er just as ordi­nary human beings do. That was a gor­geous pho­to being revealed right there! It was a mag­i­cal moment. Daniel told me it would make a great pho­to. Neither of us got it but it was a great ‘see­ing’ expe­ri­ence; a mem­o­ry so crys­tal clear that I could draw it.” - Tawatchai Pattanaporn

Burma. © Tawatchai Pattanaporn
Burma. © Tawatchai Pattanaporn
Tawatchai Pattanaporn presenting his work at the final night exhibition in Rangoon. ©Philip Blenkinsop / VII
Tawatchai Pattanaporn pre­sent­ing his work at the final night exhi­bi­tion in Rangoon. ©Philip Blenkinsop / VII
Daniel and Philip with Tawatchai and his handmade book on the evening of the presentation in Rangoon.
Daniel and Philip with Tawatchai and his hand­made book on the evening of the pre­sen­ta­tion in Rangoon.

“Being a pho­tog­ra­ph­er in Southeast Asia today, we are very much influ­enced by the inter­net. There are so many great pho­tos from around the world that we might be able to snatch their visu­al form and apply it to our work only very super­fi­cial­ly. 

Our mem­o­ries are filled with ref­er­ences that we like. We try to repli­cate those ref­er­ences and call them progress. In a way, this is a trap but we con­vince our­selves that we have made decent pho­tos. Hence, the devel­op­ment of pho­tog­ra­phy is head­ing pret­ty much the same direc­tion. 

We have so many beau­ti­ful pho­tos these days but they are all very sim­i­lar in tech­nique, com­po­si­tion and con­tent. There are so many work­shops each year in this region; the men­tors are inter­na­tion­al pho­tog­ra­phers how­ev­er the num­ber of par­tic­i­pants are over­whelm­ing to the point of becom­ing obsta­cles for the devel­op­ment of skill and per­spec­tive.

The ‘Burmese Days’ work­shop with Philip Blenkinsop and Daniel Schwartz has been my best learn­ing expe­ri­ence. 

For 7 days we trav­elled in a small group, by train and oth­er pub­lic trans­porta­tion to immerse our­selves in ‘life’ and allow our­selves the oppor­tu­ni­ty to shoot at all times.

We were giv­en free­dom (of shoot­ing). All need­ed to stay focus, a pho­to could be made at any moment. Cameras in our hands, every­thing was set ready, streets and fresh mar­kets were our bat­tle­fields. A good pho­to can be cre­at­ed just right in front of us. 

Daniel and Philip would point out which were decent photo-possibilities and which were not, guid­ing us to dif­fer­ent pho­to oppor­tu­ni­ties in dif­fer­ent sit­u­a­tions and show­ing us how to over­come con­straints to acquire a decent pho­to. 

They shot from their own per­spec­tives, inter­pret­ing scenes and cre­at­ing amaz­ing pieces, much beyond our expec­ta­tion even though we were look­ing at the same thing at the same time.

This work­shop impressed upon us the need to rely on our own per­spec­tives to cre­ate pho­tos in our own direc­tion so they turn out to be unique, stand­ing out from oth­ers.  

The dai­ly review ses­sion remind us that those pho­tos we think were great could still be bet­ter. I believe the most obvi­ous improve­ment is that when we see the moment in front of us we now know what to do to get decent pho­to.

I’d like to thank VII Academy for mak­ing this work­shop hap­pen and also for sup­port­ing sev­er­al local pho­tog­ra­phers includ­ing me. The expe­ri­ence earned from the work­shop will con­tin­u­ous­ly pro­pel us into the future and also allow us to pass knowl­edge on to oth­er local pho­tog­ra­phers.” -Tawatchai Pattanaporn

Read more about the work­shop here.

Goings-on in Moulmein (5 December 2018, left) and Hpa an (4 December 2018, right), Burma. ©Daniel Schwartz / VII
Goings-on in Moulmein (5 December 2018, left) and Hpa an (4 December 2018, right), Burma. ©Daniel Schwartz / VII
On the Bridge at Kyaung Su our Loco ploughs into three cows and a calf, derailing itself in the process as two of the beasts are tumbled to death under its carriages. What I can only assume is the Mother lies terrified, broken and dying on the tracks next to her decapitated calf. I try to comfort her with soothing words and a calming hand, questioning onlookers whether someone cannot shoot the poor beast, but even with the two full carriages of newly graduated Tatmadaw, it seems there is not a gun to be had, or perhaps it was the will that could not be found, so I leave her suffering and waiting there in the heat. Kyaung Su, Burma, 10th December 2018. ©Philip Blenkinsop / VII
On the Bridge at Kyaung Su our Loco ploughs into three cows and a calf, derail­ing itself in the process as two of the beasts are tum­bled to death under its car­riages. What I can only assume is the Mother lies ter­ri­fied, bro­ken and dying on the tracks next to her decap­i­tat­ed calf. I try to com­fort her with sooth­ing words and a calm­ing hand, ques­tion­ing onlook­ers whether some­one can­not shoot the poor beast, but even with the two full car­riages of new­ly grad­u­at­ed Tatmadaw, it seems there is not a gun to be had, or per­haps it was the will that could not be found, so I leave her suf­fer­ing and wait­ing there in the heat. Kyaung Su, Burma, 10th December 2018. ©Philip Blenkinsop / VII