With documentary photographer Geoffrey Hiller
HIDDEN MYANMAR PHOTO WORKSHOP
Myanmar is a country on the cusp of change. Still suffering the consequences of decades of stagnation under military rule, but also feeling the impact its recent “opening up,” it is currently at a crossroads. Having been closed off to the West and isolated from global influences for so long, it can sometimes feel like it’s stuck in a time warp. Unlike many of its Southeast Asian neighbors who have been rendered near unrecognizable by rapid development and tourism, Myanmar remains an untapped gem, with a strong cultural identity relatively undiluted by outsiders.
Often referred to as the Golden Land, this undiscovered country holds many unexpected surprises. There are vast but largely unheard of temple ruins that rival those of the world’s most famous forgotten cities. There is lush jungle, monasteries, snow-capped mountains, idyllic beaches and vibrant cities that hold treasures from ancient civilizations, as well as evidence of more chaotic recent development. It is rich in desirable resources, with oil, gas, minerals, precious stones and rare timbers, yet its real treasure is undoubtedly its people. With more than 130 distinct ethnic groups, Myanmar’s culture is diverse, but kindness and hospitality are commonplace. Wherever you go, you’ll usually be met with a warm smile.
ABOUT THE WORKSHOP
On this 12-day photographic workshop, you’ll be spoiled with a myriad of photo opportunities to practice and nurture your craft. It will take place under the guidance of Geoffrey Hiller, a seasoned photographer who has been published in the likes of Geo, Newsweek and the New York Times Magazine. Hiller has been capturing images of Burma since 1987, and has returned to shoot this beautiful country many times over the following years. Through his lens, he has witnessed Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, change and grow, and has observed the impact of the historic opening up in 2011. With Hiller at the helm, leading and escorting you through the process, you’ll get to explore this fascinating country and observe — and even attempt to capture — its beauty, as well as its contradictions and contrasts.
Every day in Myanmar, you’ll wake up early and set off in small groups of two or three to explore and shoot. Under guidance from Geoffrey Hiller, you’ll discover intriguing new perspectives of the city and its people. You’ll be sent on challenging assignments and will receive practical, hands-on instruction. Linger at picturesque and interesting locations, and attempt to capture their essence in photographs.
After a morning spent shooting, you’ll meet up with your photographer guide in the afternoon to discuss what you’ve been working on. Not only will he offer his expert input, but he’ll also provide tips on how to get the most of every situation and opportunity you will confronted with throughout your stay in Myanmar. Hiller will share his skills on storytelling and provide advice on how to best approach your subjects and a new culture
After discussing your assignment, start shooting again in the late afternoon when you can incorporate the newly learnt lessons into your photography session.
Days 1 to 7 (November 8 to November 15): Yangon (Click for details)
The first seven days of the workshop will be spent in photogenic Yangon, Myanmar’s former capital and its largest city. Yangon straddles the historical divide: A scattering of concrete and glass skyscrapers has sprung up and there are plans for more development, but for now at least, it remains much the same as it has in the past. There are crumbling colonial facades, magnificent centuries-old pagodas and generous expanses of green parkland. The skyline is punctuated by a series of gold stupas (commemorative Buddhist shrines), most noticeably the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, the most famous of all the country’s pilgrimage sites. There is also the riverfront Botahtaung Pagoda and the landmark Sula Pagoda, which despite being located at a busy roundabout in downtown Yangon and being surrounded by the ceaseless whirring of traffic, is supremely serene once you enter.
Yangon has much more to offer than just buildings though. Situated in the fertile delta of southern Myanmar and fed by the water of the Yangon River, it is a verdant place, with tree-lined boulevards, vast parks and gardens. It is known as ‘The Garden City of the East’, There is the serene Kandawgyi Lake, whose placid surface covers an area of 150 acres and is bordered by lush tropical woods of Kandawgyi Nature Park, as well as the vast Inya Lake, an expansive artificial pool of water north of the city center. In addition to these two lakes, there are numerous other urban retreats and nature spots where locals come to escape the constant din of city life.
Yangon’s, and indeed Myanmar’s, greatest asset is its people. It boasts a truly multicultural population. Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu and Christian influences meet and mingle in this diverse and distinct city. The Burmese people are known for being polite and visitors are not only treated with respect, but are warmly welcomed. This hospitable atmosphere makes Myanmar a comfortable destination for budding photographers to hone their craft. With a population of around two million people, Yangon also feels more accessible to practicing photographers than some of the larger Asian metropolises.
Every evening, the whole group will reconnect and discuss the day’s activities, before returning to their accommodation.
Here are just a few of the captivating locations in Yangon that participants will get a chance to photograph:
San Pya Night Fish Market
Adjacent to the Yangon River, this expansive fish market is a hive of noise and bustle. Fishermen rigorously haul in their load from the water and tons of fresh fish — a staple in the Myanmar diet — are unloaded, sorted and sold. With so much going on around you, you’ll have to photograph quickly to keep pace with the market activity. Practice taking photos on the fly and attempt to capture fleeting moments before they’re gone. Afterward, you might explore the neighborhood surrounding the market, a labyrinth of streets lined with pretty teashops and pagodas. One mile south, you’ll find a huge fruit and vegetable market named Thiri Mingalar, which makes another great subject for shooting and is, for the most part, a tourist free zone.
The most sacred Buddhist site in Myanmar, this gleaming gold and jewel-encrusted beacon is around 2,500 years old and its glittering structures make a compelling subject for a photo. Standing on a platform overlooking the city below, the temple complex can be seen from almost every part of Yangon. From early in the morning, robed monks and Burmese locals swarm around it, pausing to pray and meditate. There is a constant stream of people circling the gold-plated pagoda, popping in to light candles and make offerings to the countless Buddhist statues. After climbing hundreds of steps to reach the entrance — or alternatively taking the lift — you’ll be immediately struck by the bell-shaped golden stupa, which is home to eight sacred hairs of Buddha. With a calm and tranquil atmosphere seeping throughout the complex, it’s a peaceful and intriguing place to explore. In keeping with Buddhist tradition, you’ll remove your shoes before entering and walk around the perimeter, where you can observe locals praying and meditating.
Located just ten minutes from the center of Yangon by ferry, this rural town feels a million miles away from the city. Here, you’ll be able to see open-air bamboo huts where people live surrounding by fields of crops. Dalah and other nearby villages will give you a taste of country life in Myanmar.
Located near the University of Yangon, this area is a magnet for students, a young and trendy district that rarely attracts more than a passing glance from visitors. Vibrant and bustling, you’ll see young students sporting the latest fashions (often exported from South Korean TV Shows), plenty of merchants grilling fresh fish and selling foods direct from their stalls, as well as many cafes and restaurants. Busy and buzzing, Hledan Market is an interesting place to try and capture an authentic slice of daily Yangon life off the trodden tourist trail.
The Circular Railway
This bumpy local commuter train makes a 30-mile (48-kilometer) loop around Yangon, connecting satellite towns and suburban areas to the city. The ever-changing scenery, ranging from tiny trackside villages with bamboo houses to built-up cityscapes, provides a range of photo opportunities, as does the action inside the train, as passengers, workers and vendors pile in for the trip.
East Yangon and Mingalar Neighborhood
Although the township of Mingalar is predominately Muslim, there is a tolerant multi-cultural community here. Buddhists, Hindu, Muslims and Christians live side by side in this residential district in the old city. With a maze of narrow streets and a large fabric and household market, it has many colorful and lively sights and stories that beg to be captured on camera.
Overnight at Summit Parkview Hotel.
Days 8 to 11 (November 15 to November 18): Mawlamyine (Click for details)
On Day 8 of the photography workshop, you’ll depart from Yangon by van for a four-hour drive southeast to Mawlamyine. It is the country’s fourth largest city, although it feels closer to a town in spirit. Situated on the Salween River delta, this port town was the administrative capital of British Myanmar and fading remnants of its colonial past remain, alongside Buddhist shrines, monasteries and Muslim mosques. It is the capital of the Mon State, and the majority of its population is made up of Mon people, one of the most influential ethnic minorities in Myanmar. Mostly untouched by tourism, Mawlamyine offers a fresh look into an unblemished culture.
Literature lovers will recognize Mawlamyine from the pages of both Rudyard Kipling’s “Mandalay” and from George Orwell’s literature. Orwell lived here for several years and used it as inspiration for his “Shooting an Elephant” essay.
For visitors seeking out photo opportunities, Mawlamyine can provide them in spades. Frequent religious festivals often provide the chance to witness unique local rituals and your guide will check to see if any are taking place during your stay. Local attractions include the Kyaikthanlan Pagoda, the Kaladan Mosque and the town’s large markets. Mawlamyine also acts as a perfect base for some of Myanmar’s photographic and indeed sightseeing highlights, including the 560-foot (170-meter) reclining Buddha at Win Sein Taw Ya. Nearby islands and small villages can also be reached from here by short ferry and boat rides.
On the way to Mawlamyine, you’ll make a trip out to the Mon State’s Golden Rock, which is also known as Mt Kyaiktiyo. This famous Buddhist pilgrimage site features a gold leaf-covered boulder that hangs precariously over the edge of a cliff and is topped by a small pagoda. Small though the pagoda may be, the dangerous and dramatic cliff-edge location makes up for its diminutive size. Buddhist pilgrims frequently make the journey here to meditate and give offerings to Buddha at this site.
There may also be an opportunity to visit a monastery school in either Yangon or Mawlamyine. Many of Myanmar’s monastery schools provide a home for orphans and an education for children whose families who cannot afford to pay.
Day 11 to 12 (November 18 to 19): Yangon (Click for details)
Return to Yangon for the final night. Here, you’ll present the best of your photos to the group, who will, in turn, share their images with fellow tour-goers. Enjoy one last evening together, before saying your goodbyes. The following day, depart from Myanmar.
Overnight at Summit Parkview Hotel.
WHO SHOULD ATTEND?
This class is for photographers of all levels.
Attendees should bring their portfolio to the class for review. Each student is responsible for bringing their own camera and equipment, including a laptop.
- $4,595per person double occupancy
Add 1,395 USD for single occupancy.
Includes accommodations, transportation Yangon-Goden Rock-Mawlamyine-Yangon, airport transfers, breakfast daily and all meals only from day 7 to 10.
Most people need a visa to travel to Myanmar. Please look at this links to learn more about visa requirements.