The challenge is to take photographs of the enormous variety of ethnic groups and family clans which form Myanmar, formerly Burma. The display format will be a portrait along other picture about a thing that is important for the person in the portrait; it could be his house, a pagoda or a church, his family, anything important in their lives.
In the early 2011, I became interested in Myanmar. A little bit later, I decided left my job in Madrid for Associated Press to start to photograph that country which begins to open to the world. I started to learn about the history devouring every book that fell into my hands from Orwell to folk and anthropology about Burma. Quickly, I came to the conclusion that the key of most of the problems of the country come from the huge amount of ethnic, cultural and religious groups which form the nation and the lack of willing to understanding each others.
Myanmar has suffered 50 years of merciless dictatorship, led with iron fist by General U Ne Win who belongs to the majority ethnic group of Bamar. Since 1962 he has done no more than abuse of minorities groups. It is called Burmanization process; it exists even before the junta got the power. It was started by the first Prime Minister of the country, U Nu. The term Burmanization refers to a carefully elaborated set of government policies whose aim is a future Union of Myanmar. One of the most diverse country on the planet will become a completely homogenized one which speak just one language: Burmese; one religion: Buddhism and one way of policy. In 1961 the central government declared Buddhism as the state religion despite the fact that there are many ethnic minorities in Burma such as Christian, Muslim or Animists. This means that the Christians Kachin, Karen or Chins, the Muslims Rohingyas or Bengalis the Animism, spread across the country, Hinduisms or Jewish must convert to Buddhism or they will suffer the consequences. Today this is changing but the democratization process works slow and, at the present time, abuses are still committed against minorities.
I think that a stable and prosperous nation will never be achieved without a fair settlement of the ethnic question.
Photography doesn’t have languages or borders, anyone, even who don’t know how to read, is able to see and appreciate a photograph. The principal aim of the project is to help Burmese people, through documentary photography, to understand how lucky they are to belong to a nation cultural and ethnically so rich.
Also, the project helps to understand a country extremely complicated, but at the same time unbelievably interesting, through exhibitions outside the country and a book.
Since 2012 I have had to research and document the daily life, the policy, even the war, in remote areas of the country. This project has taken almost all my time during the last two years, especially since the early 2013 when I started to focus myself only on it. 90 percent of the ethnic groups were already photographed but it is a slow process due to different circumstances such as hiring special vehicles, finding translators and the difficult access to remote areas.
Between the trips, I spend my time at the lab working for the future exhibition. It is an arduous procedure but exciting and magic.
Although I have many contacts in Burma, almost always I work with the same person who drive and translate for me, he is Ko Sai. He is part of this project almost as much as me. Thanks to him I got pictures that, otherwise, they would have been impossible. Culturally, Ko Sai is the key, he helps me to choose people and then to explain them what my intentions are.
Technically the development of my work on field is simple; I carry a Hasselblad 500c body, two lenses and film.
Why an analog camera?
When I start to think about “Face Oblivion” I had clear that I wanted to do this on a film format, without smoke and mirrors, in black & white and shot on their natural environment, homes, job places, etc. I choose a 1959 Hasseblad because SHE is part of the roots of documentary photography and above all because it was the standard portrait camera until the arrival of digital format.
Although I digitalize all the films to get the chance that offers me the new technologies to spread and publish; all the process is traditional and handmade, developing and copying on a chemical lab.
To people who are concerned about chemist waste, like me, once the chemicals are exhausted, these are subjected to controlled evaporation process which reduce the waste to 1/1000 part. Then, I leave them on an authorized household waste recycling centre.
Since my first contact to formerly Burma, I noticed in their people the desire to work for the sake of change, free of yoke of the kings and dictators. In the country there are a big amount of social movements, new political parties and young leaders; although still there are religious and racial radicalisms.
Some time ago I took the freelance’s path because I felt that the traditional media do not tell the stories as they should be told, in depth, with honesty and dedication.
Now, I have the chance to contribute with my little bit to the cause of these people. Sooner or later, these human groups will be end up homogenized with the West due to the opening of the country to the world among other things. I do not expect to stop the threat of globalization with my photos, but, at least, I record them as they are now, knowledge for future generations.
People will be the principal beneficiary; a project like this has never been carried out before in the country. Whoever wants will may know and learn more about their own country and the people who habits it. There will be a catalog photography book which will be in the libraries of the universities for the future generations.
In 2015 there will be Presidential elections in Burma, this time without outlawing any party, the dates are not confirmed yet. Although the National League for Democracy of the Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi is the favorite, the current President Thein Sein is gaining sympathy with its political openness.
It will be exhibited in Rangoon during the pre-electoral campaign.