Review: Seeing The Light: Rangoon Streets

Written on November 6, 2019, posted in News, Review

Blenkinsop and Schwartz in Mawlamyinegyun, Irrawaddy Delta. October 2019

October 16-21, 2019
Myanmar
Instructors: Philip Blenkinsop and Daniel Schwartz

In October 2019, ten young Burmese pho­tog­ra­phers roamed Yangon with instruc­tors Philip Blenkinsop and Daniel Schwartz, who tutored them in the sub­tle art of street pho­tog­ra­phy.

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Schwartz reloading under Pathein bananas. Oct 2019 © Philip Blenkinsop / VII
Schwartz reload­ing under Pathein bananas. Oct 2019 © Philip Blenkinsop / VII

The aim of the work­shop, sup­port­ed by Myanmar Deitta and the VII Academy, was to intro­duce the par­tic­i­pants to the dis­ci­pline of street pho­tog­ra­phy and involved a mix of shoot­ing ses­sions, in-depth the­o­ry, with par­tic­u­lar atten­tion paid to the analy­sis of the late Robert Frank’s con­tact sheets, and in-depth cri­tiques of the par­tic­i­pants’ field work.

Here, for your perusal is a taste of the week, includ­ing the tes­ti­monies of par­tic­i­pants as well as images made by par­tic­i­pants (thank you!) dur­ing class­room ses­sions and instal­la­tion of the exhi­bi­tion.

Heat fatigue in a slow-rolling, delta-cabin, Oct 2019 © Daniel Schwartz / VII
Heat fatigue in a slow-rolling, delta-cabin, Oct 2019 © Daniel Schwartz / VII

The Participants

Aung Zaw Myo
​Khin Kyi Htet
Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe
Rita Khin
​Shin Moe Myint
Shwe Wutt Hmon
That Paing Dawe
Tin Htet Paing
Yu Yu Myint Than
Kaung Swan Thar

Aung Zaw Myo
Aung Zaw Myo

“I thought that I’d shot every­where in the streets of Rangoon. They did­n’t inter­est me any more, how­ev­er, dur­ing the first day of this work­shop, I learned how wrong I was. Rangoon’s streets came alive again.

Philip and Daniel taught us how sim­ple street scenes could offer won­der­ful pic­tures and shared work­ing meth­ods which could yield a great pho­to­graph with ener­gy and emo­tion in it.

We learned that the light, move­ment, dead space and place­ment of sub­jects with­in frame could be con­trolled by mov­ing our­selves around the scene and bend­ing our knees.

The effort they put in from start to fin­ish was won­der­ful. They gave each of us chal­leng­ing assign­ments to shoot every day and reviewed every pho­to, pro­vid­ing very con­struc­tive cri­tiques on each pho­to.

During these ses­sions, Philip and Daniel encour­aged us to raise ques­tions, crit­i­cise each other’s work and share our thoughts open­ly. They were full of excite­ment and of course, a lot of frus­tra­tion when we did not receive good feed­back for the mis­takes we made pho­tograph­ing. However, I think this is a part of learn­ing jour­ney and it is great to know the var­i­ous ways to approach the streets.”

Aung Zaw Myo

Khin Kyi Htet
Khin Kyi Htet

“I work full-time as an archi­tect, but have been pho­tograph­ing con­stant­ly since 2017, using pho­tos as an escape from the exis­ten­tial stress and monot­o­ny of work. Photography for me is tak­ing pho­tos of sub­jects with which I find a con­nec­tion; (could be a dead cock­roach or peo­ple on the street).
On day one, we all gave short intro­duc­tions and Philip and Daniel gave us humor­ous nick­names based on what we pre­sent­ed. I was called the ‘Disconnected archi­tect’.
During one of the work­shop days, while look­ing at our pho­tos, Philip com­ment­ed on my dis­com­fort shoot­ing peo­ple on the street. (On the street, with­out the cam­era, I enjoy observ­ing what’s going on and I am at ease. But once I am with a cam­era, I feel like a fish out of water.)
The work­shop was refresh­ing but also left me in con­fu­sion. I have absorbed as much as I could from the work­shop and now I need to spend some time sort­ing out and think­ing through what I have learnt, my own ideas on pho­tog­ra­phy and how I want to do it in the long run.

Khin Kyi Htet

Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe
Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe

“As I am a pho­to­jour­nal­ist, I always try to put all the infor­ma­tion into the pho­to­graph. During the work­shop, Philip and Daniel point out this fact to me and I began to ques­tion myself and think about why I put so much infor­ma­tion into the pho­to.

Thanks to Philip and Daniel and these tough, inten­sive days, I man­aged to push myself to the lim­it.

Nyein Su Wai Kyaw Soe

Rita Khin
Rita Khin

“Last year, I was on the train to Moulmein with Philip and Daniel. There was a 24/7 con­tin­u­ous guid­ance and instruc­tion on how to shoot and where to go and what to do. It was learn­ing on the spot. Everything on the trip was dif­fer­ent than this recent one.

Philip and Daniel’s work­shops are one of the best I have ever had. The ener­gy and vital­i­ty and expe­ri­ences in both of them are some­how trans­ferred into us to be one true pho­tog­ra­ph­er not just in Yangon but any­where in the world.

I have some chal­lenges while shoot­ing in Yangon. It is not just with this train­ing but with any train­ing based in Yangon. It is hard for me to find some­thing that visu­al­ly pro­vokes me to take a pho­tog­ra­phy. On the trip to Moulmein, my final results sur­prised me as some scenes were things I would not notice in the streets of Yangon.  But in Yangon, it was dif­fi­cult as I could not define what was visu­al­ly inter­est­ing.

As learn­ing is the goal, Philip and Daniel’s feed­back on my work was the best part of this train­ing. However, I think it could have been bet­ter if I could have had the learn­ing expe­ri­ences from these two great men­tors in a way of more in-depth learn­ing cir­cle. In a way that, we would be shoot­ing togeth­er in closed or near­by places so that they can see what we were doing wrong or right. I think I missed most of that chances of close­ness with the two men­tors dur­ing this train­ing as there were some com­pli­ca­tion on my side. I believe that I could have done much bet­ter and I was not tru­ly sat­is­fied with myself. I think this is not the best of me.

To con­clude, the words of advice from these two great men­tors are always with me and I believe I will be more atten­tive in devel­op­ing my skill set in pho­tog­ra­phy because of them.

Like Philip has said, I have to be more severe in analysing and cri­tiquing my own pho­tographs than oth­ers might be.

With Philip and Daniel, there are always some­thing new to learn. I would like to thank both of them for being in Myanmar again and for teach­ing us. It has been a great week but I believe it could have been much bet­ter if we were on a boat or a train up to Kachin state or some oth­er places of Myanmar.”

Rita Khin

​Shin Moe Myint
​Shin Moe Myint

“My Name is Shin Moe Myint and I began pho­tog­ra­phy over 2 years ago. I work as a pho­to­jour­nal­ist at The Myanmar Times where our pho­to edi­tor sug­gest­ed that I shoot in the street but I thought it’s only worth fol­low­ing news relat­ed pho­tos.

It was our pho­to edi­tor who trained me. He used to be a stu­dent of Philip’s before, so it has nev­er been a prob­lem for me to approach peo­ple and pho­to­graph them.

But dur­ing this work­shop, I dis­cov­ered the joy of shoot­ing the streets and learned how to fill the frame and even shoot ver­ti­cal­ly. Thank you Philip and Daniel for let­ting us learn from you.”

Shin Moe Myint

Shwe Wutt Hmon
Shwe Wutt Hmon

“As a pho­tog­ra­ph­er whose prac­tice is not much work­ing on the street, this work­shop of Daniel and Philip’s offered me an excit­ing chal­lenge, a new expe­ri­ence and anoth­er lev­el of approach into my pho­tog­ra­phy.

I have nev­er been uncom­fort­able to pho­to­graph peo­ple in a set­ting or staged approach, but when it came time to walk around on the street and pho­to­graph peo­ple in the mar­ket, at the jet­ty and train sta­tion or on the bus, it was a real­ly chal­leng­ing and new expe­ri­ence for me.

Philip and Daniel were very com­mit­ted to the train­ing and atten­tive to each and every par­tic­i­pant. They not only pro­vid­ed eye-opening input in the class­room, shar­ing both their own works and those of the late pho­tog­ra­ph­er Robert Frank’s life and spir­it but also walked around on the streets with us, push­ing all of us relent­less­ly out of our com­fort zones and encour­ag­ing us in our efforts to approach and inter­pret what we were pho­tograph­ing.

During those six days, my skill and courage to pho­to­graph peo­ple and scenes on the streets improved mea­sur­ably as a result of their guid­ance and cri­tiques.

The most valu­able and touch­ing thing I gained from the ‘Seeing the Light’ work­shop expe­ri­ence was that we have to be THOUGHTFUL, what­ev­er we do, whether it is street pho­tog­ra­phy, con­cep­tu­al pho­tog­ra­phy or any genre of pho­tog­ra­phy.

As a young pho­tog­ra­ph­er, I used to think about what I would pho­to­graph or what sto­ry I would tell. Daniel and Philip told us that under­stand­ing who we are and the things that we care about, the things that con­cern us or make us angry, if we fol­low our hearts, will define our path as pho­tog­ra­phers. I got my LIGHT.”

Shwe Wutt Hmon

Tin Htet Paing
Tin Htet Paing

“‘Seeing the Light: Rangoon Streets’ pho­tog­ra­phy work­shop was run by two very dif­fer­ent pho­tog­ra­phers; Philip Blenkinsop and Daniel Schwartz.

No mat­ter how the two are dif­fer­ent, they always agreed on the pho­tographs which they thought were good pic­tures.

Philip is unapolo­get­i­cal­ly straight-forward and Daniel always sees small details of every pho­to­graph. Both always make us see the poten­tial of good pho­tographs, even in those bad ones we made.

During the work­shop, I need­ed to unlearn cer­tain bad prac­tices and see the fun­da­men­tal mean­ing of pho­tog­ra­phy again, which we always seem to for­get try­ing to be some­body else.

Both believe that there is no excuse for a bad pic­ture because every pic­ture we pro­duce is our deci­sion and what we have to say about the scene we cap­ture, and that also, there should be no such thing as lucky shot.

They pushed us to make images that have ener­gy, mys­tery and ele­ments that can­not be pro­duced by anoth­er pho­tog­ra­ph­er the next day. The way the two inter­pret pho­tographs helped me see what dri­ves me to take pic­tures. They helped me under­stand that pro­duc­ing an image is not just about the image itself, it is also about the eth­i­cal prac­tice and the thought­ful process of mak­ing it, engag­ing my own knowl­edge and back­ground.

With no doubt, the expe­ri­ence of attend­ing this work­shop is going to be instru­men­tal in improv­ing my pho­tog­ra­phy prac­tice.

Thank you, Daniel and Philip for such an inspir­ing week!”

Tin Htet Paing

Yu Yu Myint Than
Yu Yu Myint Than

“I am inter­est­ed in doc­u­men­tary pho­tog­ra­phy and per­son­al projects.

Philip was my first teacher who inspired me to decide to change my career to be a pho­tog­ra­ph­er. I have been pho­tograph­ing for 5 year since then.

At first I was wor­ried because, for my per­son­al rea­sons, in my recent pho­tog­ra­phy prac­tice, it’s been near­ly (1 and half) years that I have been objec­ti­fy­ing peo­ple I shoot rather than the way they are and more inter­est­ed in shoot­ing details and non-human sub­jects,

This work­shop was very chal­leng­ing for me as I couldn’t engage myself in my shoot­ing for the first 3 days.

Through dis­cus­sion and reflec­tion on Robert Franks’ work, I tried to push myself to pho­to­graph people’s souls with­out my bias, but so much frus­tra­tion made me lose myself and I final­ly engaged myself shoot­ing peo­ple again.

I real­ly liked the cri­tique ses­sions by Philip and Daniel; my most favourite part was: “There is no excuse” for any bad pho­tos, and I was amazed how Daniel finds every detail of which pho­tographs work and which don’t.

Also the good thing about the work­shop is that we didn’t need to agree with what­ev­er they said; even dis­cussing Robert Frank ‚we could express our dis­like of his pho­tos. I have learnt many things from this work­shop; there were things I agreed with and things I did­n’t (like using flash).

They see the strength of stu­dents though, and Daniel said that my obses­sion of still life made some of my pho­tos bet­ter and that I could apply that in shoot­ing peo­ple.

I have heard a lot from many peo­ple that I am ‘real­ly pas­sion­ate about pho­tog­ra­phy’; I also said this about myself often but I start shut­ting my mouth after see­ing the pas­sion of pho­tog­ra­phy from Philip and Daniel!

Thank you Philip and Daniel for your inspi­ra­tion.”

Yu Yu Myint Than
Instagram

Kaung Swan Thar
Kaung Swan Thar

“I have felt a lot of changes in my pho­tog­ra­phy in prac­tices and also how to read pho­tos after attend­ing this work­shop. As I am a pho­to­jour­nal­ist, I found it quite chal­leng­ing at the start because I didn’t know what to shoot in the street because I only shoot some­thing relat­ed with news. But I took my effort to shoot in the street and applied what the teach­ers taught us. I real­ly appre­ci­ate that both teach­ers give the com­ments on every sin­gle pho­tos of all the student’s shoot­ing. From them, I learnt the beau­ty of street pho­tog­ra­phy and its impor­tance and I start­ed to see pho­tos on the streets and the con­cept of street pho­tos more than before. I can­not thank enough to our two great teach­ers as well as VII acad­e­my and Myanmar Deitta.”

Kaung Swan Thar

‘BURMESE DAYS’ follow-up ses­sions

Daniel with Ko Myo in Labutta on the Ywe River. Oct 2019 ©PB
Daniel with Ko Myo in Labutta on the Ywe River. Oct 2019 ©PB
Ko Myo presenting his Delta work at Myanmar Deitta on the penultimate day of the 'Seeing The Light' Workshop. ©PB
Ko Myo pre­sent­ing his Delta work at Myanmar Deitta on the penul­ti­mate day of the ‘Seeing The Light’ Workshop. ©PB

Daniel and I invit­ed Ko Myo to trav­el with us through the Delta for ten days pri­or to the work­shop; a fol­low up to ‘BURMESE DAYS’ our over­land work­shop of December 2019 which he attend­ed.

​Once back on ‘dry-land’ in Rangoon he came and shared his pho­tos and expe­ri­ences with the group on the penul­ti­mate day.

Ko Myo
Ko Myo

As I used to shoot most­ly the ele­phants ‘sto­ry only, first I had to learn how to shoot in the pub­lic area and how to approach strangers. This was my biggest bar­ri­er before Philip and Daniel taught me to see pho­tographs in the ordi­nary, and every­day, to shoot your sub­jects from dif­fer­ent angle to get the best shots. First they told me to go to dif­fer­ent angle of the sub­jects and shoot, but after a while, they taught me how to visu­al­ize the good angle by mind-travelling to your sub­ject and make the right deci­sion to shoot the best shot with­out going to the dif­fer­ent angles phys­i­cal­ly. I also got the habit of brin­ing my cam­era with me all the time  to get ready for every sit­u­a­tion hap­pened.

They trained me how to see the pho­tos from what­ev­er we see. While trav­el­ling with them, I had to set my cam­era ready every time while short­ing or not and set my expo­sure ready based on the light­ing of the sit­u­a­tion I was in so that I can cap­ture the sit­u­a­tion which can hap­pen sud­den­ly or short time. They taught me not to give excuse of light­ing of day or night to shoot, I had to be able to get the best shots based on the avail­able light at the sit­u­a­tion. I have learnt from them that as a pho­tog­ra­ph­er, I have to make my move­ment accord­ing to the peo­ple I shoot, like danc­ing not just stand­ing still.

Besides they also taught me how to deal with com­mu­ni­ty, how to take care of myself phys­i­cal­ly and men­tal­ly. Also I have learnt keep­ing the diary where I have to jot down the expe­ri­ence of the trip, reflec­tions, knowledge’s I have learnt from the trips and peo­ple I have met and also make sketch­es.
After this trip, I have learnt the good use of avail­able light to cre­ate the great pho­tos, to think of pho­tos geo­met­ri­cal­ly (use of lines, cir­cles, etc) and most impor­tant­ly not to be LAZY and no excuse and no lucky shots. I learnt a lot from these two teach­ers since the first work­shop last year but this trip expe­ri­ence is also unique expe­ri­ence for me to be a bet­ter pho­tog­ra­ph­er as well as a bet­ter human being.

Behind the Scenes - SEEiNG THE LiGHT

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Letpadan Train Station. Oct 2019 ©️ Daniel Schwartz / VII

First two images: Mawlamyinegyun, Irrawaddy Delta Oct 2019 © Philip Blenkinsop / VII
Last image: Letpadan Train Station. Oct 2019 ©️ Daniel Schwartz / VII