I only took two lenses with me on my four week trip to Myanmar in the autumn: a 35mm and an 85mm. I wanted to keep things simple and light by only using prime lenses. I ended up using the 35mm about 90% of the time, typically switching to the 85mm late in the day. It’s a great combination for someone mainly interested in portrait photography. The 35mm is ideal for environmental portraits, showing a person in context (as above), while the 85mm lends itself to close-up head shots (as below). Both are relatively small and light, and encourage the photographer to get close, but not too close, to their subject. With both lenses, my physical distance from the person I’m photographing is about the same: close enough to establish some kind of connection, however fleeting, but not so close as to invade their personal space.
I’m finding my standard zoom lens increasingly cumbersome, and rarely use it these days, so much so that I’m thinking of trading it in for a wide-angle prime. While I never really wish for anything longer than 85mm, there were occasions on this trip when I would have liked something wider than 35mm, particularly for landscapes and architecture. Does anyone else out there have any experience of going zoom-free? I’d be interesting in hearing your thoughts.
Right now, if I could choose one city in the world to wander around in with a camera, it would be Yangon. My visit in November last year was my second time in the city, so it was familiar enough for me to feel comfortable and orientated, but not so familiar that I felt like I’d seen it all before. I spent a lot of time just zigzagging my way through the tightly-packed grid of streets in downtown Yangon, no particular destination in mind, just looking for a character, a scene or a detail to photograph.
In a few weeks, I’m heading back to Myanmar, this time for just over a month. I’m looking forward to seeing parts of the country that I didn’t have time to explore earlier in the year, but I’m also really excited about spending time in Yangon again. Although I spent a fair amount of time there on my first trip, I feel that there’s a lot more still to see and experience.
Thinking about my return trip has made me look again through the pictures from my first visit, and I found quite a few that I liked, but which I hadn’t posted before – so I thought it was time for a third and final installment in my Streets of Yangon series. These pictures were all taken in Yangon in February and March of this year.
Yangon quickly became one of my favourite places. I spent days wandering around the streets, especially the tight grid of narrow alleyways that make up the downtown area. The city has such a mixture of cultures, with influences from all over south-east Asia, sub-continental India and China all very much in evidence. In the space of a couple blocks, you can find a Chinese pagoda, a mosque, a Hindu temple and a Baptist church. You can have dim sum for lunch and chicken biryani for dinner. Brand new hotels and office blocks sit opposite derelict colonial era buildings. The city is full of life and energy, but is also very welcoming. Everywhere I went, I met people who were friendly, interesting and curious.
I met the banjo playing gentleman below on my first morning in the city. I heard him before I saw him, the sound of his Chinese folk tunes carrying across the street. He was playing and singing to himself on his front porch, and I crouched down to take a few pictures. As I was taking my first few shots, his wife came out of the house, tapped me on the shoulder, handed me a plastic stool to sit on, and wordlessly went back inside. This was the first of a number of small kindnesses I experienced in Myanmar. I chatted to the banjo player for a little while; once he found out that I was British, he started playing Christmas songs and hits from the 60s.
Women – and to a lesser extent men – wearing thanaka, a paste made from ground bark, are a common sight throughout Myanmar.
Chewing betel – leaving blood red stains on the teeth – is a common habit in Myanmar. This man is preparing betel leaves and nuts for sale.