How To Photograph the Elderly in Myanmar

 

An environmental portrait of an elderly woman, with prayer beads, in Myanmar.

 

I love making portrait photos, in particular of children and the elderly. As well as photographing lots of incredible Buddhist temples and beautiful landscapes I’ve been fortunate to photograph the elderly in Myanmar.

The Burmese are a gentle and deeply spiritual people, which I found to be very refreshing.

Photographers Need To Help Each Other

I remember corresponding with photographer Rick Sammon prior to his trip to Myanmar (i.e., Burma) a few years back.

Rick's a great bloke who I've followed through his excellent podcast the Digital Photography Experience and, most recently, The Picturing Success Podcast.

Rick’s super positive attitude, hard earned experience and ability to explain complex topics in plain language is a great gift to his audience.

Photos From My Myanmar Archive

During our correspondence I started to think about my own trip to Myanmar back in December 1999. That particular adventure also saw me travel to Laos and, for the second time, Tibet.

Back then I was using a Leica M6 camera with a Summicron 35mm f/2 lens and Kodak Ektachrome E100VS film and the square format Hasselblad 503cxi camera with Kodak Professional Portra 160VC film.

The scans are old and not particularly great quality. Nonetheless, it’s good to bring some of these old images out of the archive and out into the world.

 
Pilgrims, Myanmar

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Photography And The Need to Depart from Reality

The image at the very top of this post was made on color negative film. However, I felt that the colorful blanket the elderly woman had draped over her was, while beautiful, drawing too much attention away from her face.

I wanted to make an environmental portrait where all elements of the scene worked together to explore a simple, universal truth: the beauty and wisdom of the elderly.

I never had any doubt about departing from reality, in this case into black and white, in the pursuit of truth.

 

Portrait of an elderly woman against colorful curtains in her home in rural Myanmar.

 

What A Way To Spend Christmas

It was Christmas morning 1999 and I had arranged for a local guide to find the four oldest people in the village and ask if it would be possible for me to visit their homes and photograph them.

As they're Buddhist there was no chance of me interfering with any kind of Christmas celebrations.

I was welcomed and had one of the best mornings of my life photographing three women and one very hard working elderly gentleman.

 

An environmental portrait of an elderly man, in his back yard, in rural Myanmar.

 

There was no common language between us, but they were kind and gracious and the photos I made remain a great memory of my trip to Myanmar.

I was happy to make a series of prints which I sent back to be shared amongst their families.

Myanmar was a revelation for me. It’s a very beautiful country with a long and rich history. I'm very much looking forward to my next trip to Myanmar.

While aspects of the country are changing quickly, one thing I'm sure that will remain a constant is the kind and generous spirit of the Burmese people.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru