Photographers' Blog

Amid the opium fields

Loimgmain, Shan state, Myanmar

By Soe Zeya Tun

Ethnic Palaung and Lisu make their homes atop mountains that rise more than 5,000 feet above sea level in Myanmar’s northern Shan state. Temperatures here can be far lower than in much of the country, with lows hovering around 41 degrees Fahrenheit (5°C) and sometimes dropping to as little as 37 (3°C) during the winter months. Tea and opium poppy plantations cover many of the surrounding hillsides.

I was one of eight Myanmar journalists who recently traveled to this remote region. Leaving Mantong township, we first took motorcycles along a dirt road only about 2 feet wide. After a day’s drive we reached a village where we spent the night. We hiked the entire next day to get to Loimgmain, a village surrounded by opium poppy fields.

Ngokhu, a 30-year-old man from the northern Shan capital of Lashio, traveled to Loimgmain to work in the poppy fields. He makes only 4,000 kyat (about $4) per day to plant and harvest. He huddles next to a fire to keep warm, wearing the same clothes he put on four months ago at the start of the cold season.


Gallery: Amid the opium fields

Ngokhu says he’s been working here for the past four years, because there are no other jobs, and he is able to send 600,000 kyat (about $600) to his mother each year. Ngokhu says he does not use opium. But a TNLA soldier and former drug user said Ngokhu’s watery eyes and dry skin show that he is still taking opium.

This TNLA soldier said the ethnic army group decided to destroy poppy fields because local people were becoming addicted to opium. He said Chinese traders were making money while locals remain poor.

To die in peace

Yangon, Myanmar

By Minzayar

“There are about thirty patients in our hospice and the number’s always about the same. New patients arrive regularly and as old patients die. About ten die every month here.”

When the nurse showing me around the hospice said that, I was kind of shocked. If ten patients die a month, that means one every three days. To be honest, I have very rarely seen someone die near me. When I do, it is very sad and scary. I cannot imagine how the people here live with it.

U Hla Tun’s cancer hospice is a well-known place in Myanmar where cancer patients have been looked after for many years. It was founded in 1998 by U Hla Tun, who despite his wealth couldn’t save his young daughter from deadly cancer. His hospice only accepts cancer patients in the terminal stage, those who have already been given up on by the government hospitals’ cancer wards. “We accept only the hopeless and the helpless,” says Naw Lar Htoo Aye, the head nurse.

A village hunted by wild elephants

Kyar Chaung village, Myanmar

By Minzayar

It was a fine winter evening and the first frame I took was a silhouette of a farmer and his wife wearing ta-na-ka, riding on their cow carts, so at once, I thought this is a very nice village. But in fact, its people have been living in fear for several years.

Kyar Chaung village is 64 miles north of Yangon, Myanmar. Most villagers have two houses. One on the ground to stay during the daytime and one in a tree to protect themselves from a wild elephant’s attack.

As I went to see the head of the village, people were already gathering in front of his house and chattering about a man who had to run for his life as he was chased by an elephant just a day ago.

The first embrace

On the road with President Obama in Myanmar

By Jason Reed

It was something you wouldn’t dream of ten years ago. Based then as a photographer in Bangkok, our forays into neighboring Myanmar consisted of clandestine treks across a slippery border into the jungle camps of Karen rebels. Rebels who were child soldiers brandishing impossibly heavy weapons in their fight against a military junta that had not only persecuted them but also banished Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi into years of house arrest – denying her a place in the political landscape following democratic general elections in May, 1990.

Journalist visas to Myanmar were almost impossible to obtain and the only visual fruit they bore was to strictly-controlled, officially-sanctioned photo opportunities at the ceremonial burning of illicit drugs intercepted from the golden triangle.

Fast forward to November 19, 2012 and the dream is now reality – a first embrace by the United States government to the new social and political reforms in Myanmar. We’re flying into Yangon in a plane bearing the seal of the President of the United States. As journalists we are privileged to have a front-row seat to history. In this case, it was the first visit by a U.S. president to this nation as it slowly reveals itself from behind a curtain of 50 years of strict military rule and international sanctions.

Burnt under the sun

By Damir Sagolj

(WARNING: GRAPHIC CONTENT)

The bottom picture is of a dead man killed by who-knows-who and left alone in the desert. I shot this image almost ten years ago from atop a U.S. Marines tank speeding towards Baghdad.

It immediately got lost, the photo itself, amongst others illustrating what would be celebrated as the liberation of a country from a tyrant. Other images of fighting and those of U.S. soldiers doing this and that played well in the papers. Somewhere near Nassiriya, this man was left forgotten to rot under the desert sun — and on our hard drives.

Not long after, I realized that was probably my best shot from the short invasion from Kuwait to Baghdad. This was a simple but powerful picture of an unknown man killed by whomever and left alone among tank trails, surrounded by nothing but dust and the noise of war. Everyone was too busy with their personal wars at the moment, I suppose. People had to survive, to run away, while others had to win battles and justify their leader’s decisions. I had to take more pictures that seemed more important for the world of news that is always hungry for answers to those questions.

Voices of Myanmar refugees

By Damir Sagolj

“It was raining for days before she came, then rain stopped. She has super powers,” Poe Suter Toe, an ethnic Karen refugee said. Indeed, the monsoon rain started again the moment Aung San Suu Kyi left Mae La, the biggest refugee camp at the Thailand-Myanmar border. Its 50,000 people, refugees from all across the country, better known as Burma, remain behind razor wire surrounding the camp in mountains.

A day after, I crossed inside the camp one more time to ask people about Mother Suu’s visit. What do they think about it? Can she change the country? Can she help them?

SLIDESHOW: VOICES OF MYANMAR REFUGEES

As expected, I heard many different opinions; from no hope to big hope, from “she is my inspiration” to “she can’t do anything”, from fears of another “failed revolution” to excitement that the misery of these poor people could be coming to its end. Many were just being very cautious about their expectations.

Through opium fields

By Damir Sagolj

She killed her husband by giving him six daughters. In the land of warriors, drug lords and brutal highlanders – he wanted a son. And then he just died disappointed, Moe Mohm said, leaving her to grow opium and raise girls.

By the fireplace, obviously the central point of a household high in the mountains of the Shan state, Moe sits and talks to us in a frantic combination of laughter and tears. She is an ethnic Pa-O and wears a towel above her pretty face with teeth ruined by betel nut. Only a glance at her hands reveals real age and hard work in fields. The house seems to be okay – humble but well kept and clean.

I take a few pictures just to get her accustomed to the camera. There will be a turn in her story as she talks through her life to the first journalists she has ever met and I want to capture the moment when it comes. It might take a while, but I know how to wait.

The magic of the crop

That first day was history in the making. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, the icon of the democracy movement in Myanmar and daughter of an independence hero of the country, was appearing in public for the first time in many years. I knew these were not going to be ordinary images. Leave them big and don’t try to improve the perfect. If I could only make the frame wider to show the whole country celebrating her freedom… but to crop – no, no, no…

MYANMAR-SUU KYI/

Aung San Suu Kyi smiles as she walks with National League for Democracy party members after being released from house arrest in Yangon November 13, 2010. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Euphoria continued the following day, as Suu Kyi gave her first speech after being released from house arrest before tens of thousands supporters packed on a street in front of her party’s headquarters.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 14 November 2010

A salute to all those who managed to get pictures, text and video out of Myanmar (Burma) of the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a truly historic moment.  No foreign journalists were given visas to cover the election or Suu Kyi's release and there's no Internet.  Respect to you all.

MYANMAR-SUUKYI/

Aung San Suu Kyi (C) waves to supporters gathered to hear her speech outside the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party in Yangon November 14, 2010. Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on Sunday for freedom of speech in army-ruled Myanmar, urged thousands of supporters to stand up for their rights, and indicated she may urge the West to end sanctions.  REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

MYANMAR-SUU KYI/

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with supporters after she was released from house arrest in Yangon November 13, 2010. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A week in Pictures 7 November 2010

A continual struggle with writing this blog is trying to keep it picture led and not wander off into the top stories from the week that may not have produced the best pictures. This week in Asia we have seen the arrival of U.S President Obama in India, U.S Secretary of State Hilary Clinton doing the rounds, the first election in Myanmar for 20 years (no prizes as to who will win though) not one, but two Qantas jets getting into engine difficulty, the continuing tensions between Japan and China, the failed bid by BHP Billiton to take over of Potash, currency woes as we prepare for G20 in Seoul later this week and let's not forget Afghanistan and bombs in Pakistan. So where to start?  Mick Tsikas produced my favourite picture of the week, a fan at the Melbourne Cup; one can only admire the oral control it takes to shout in celebration while holding firmly onto a lit cigarette.  I thought this was a skill that died out with the passing of Humphrey Bogart.

HORSE RACING/MELBOURNE

A race-goer cheers as jockey Gerald Mosse of France rides Americain to victory in the Melbourne Cup at the Flemington Racecourse in Melbourne November 2, 2010. REUTERS/Mick Tsikas

In Indonesia the stark realities of living in the shadow of an erupting volcano continue to be brought home by Beawiharta. Try as I might I could not edit out any of these four pictures.  So with cries of "overfile ovefile" ringing in my ears I will shamelessly re-publish.  Wearing a hat to protect yourself from the hundreds of tonnes of hot ash raining down, you've been made homeless and the air is filled with dust and smoke - what do you do? Light up - a perfect moment caught as life stoically goes on. The strong diagonal lines and planes of tone in perfect monochromatic harmony.

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