It took photographer Nic Dunlop four trips to Burma before he got the shot he wanted of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I wanted to photograph her in a way that others hadn’t,” the 28-year-old British free-lancer said. Other photographers usually picture her smiling and radiant, trying to capture her beauty and charisma in living color, he said.
But Dunlop wanted her tough side. He had two minutes to get the black and white shot he envisioned. He posed her in front of her door, giving her a shadow as a backdrop. She stands there, her arms crossed glaring at the camera.
“She was in an angry mood that day. I wasn’t about to ask her to smile,” he said.
The 1996 photo is part of a month-long exhibition of Dunlop’s photos of Burma titled “Constructive Engagement” at the Foreign Correspondents Club. “Constructive engagement” is the name Asean uses to describe its policy toward the Burmese junta, which calls the country Myanmar.
The approximately two dozen photos are in black and white, a medium he said fits the country. “Color puts a softer edge on things. When taking pictures of child labor or the military, you don’t want to convey a picture postcard image,” he said.
Still, the Bangkok-based photographer said working with monochrome film is tough these days since the photography market often demands color.
His subjects are not the kind of postcards Burma’s Ministry of Tourism would want sent out to the world.
A soldier stretches out his hand to block the photographer’s view. Another sits captured by Karen rebels. A truck takes prisoners to Mandalay’s prison. Unpaid child laborers work on a tourism project for “Visit Myanmar Year.”
The issues are black and white as well, he said. The popular opposition is squared up against a repressive government.
Dunlop’s interest in Burma was sparked on his first trip there on assignment in 1992 for The Guardian newspaper, based in London.
The photographs on exhibit date from 1992 to 1996. Since then, his friendship with Burmese students exiled in Thailand has strengthened his ties to the country. Several of his photographs are from refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border as well.
On his six trips to Burma, Dunlop says his greatest challenge has been to portray the paranoia the people feel toward their government. “After all, you can’t photograph a conversation,” he said.
The exhibit’s opening party is set for
7 pm tonight at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Cambodia. All are welcome.