My unexposed rolls of film, put together in a plastic zip bag ready to pass through security. ‘These cannot go through the scanner’ I said firmly. No problem at all, just wait here sir, a few moments later we were trough without any problems. This was the start of my trip, travelling solo to Myanmar.
Taking my first longer solo trip felt like a bit of a challenge. I wasn’t sure if I was ready to rely purely on myself, in a completely different country in a complete different environment. Of course I was nervous, but I was also excited. Thrilled to the adventure, the unknown but also ready to expose my 11 rolls of black and white film.
My Leica M2 was the greatest travel companion I could imagine. Together we saw things we had never been before, we were exposed to new light of experiences, felt the senses and captured it. We were there, in those moments. I could rely on its basics, itself, its solid character.
I stepped outside of the door of my hostel in the busy streets of Yangon. Immediately the heat stroke me, the sun burning on my skin. Wow, what a people and what a stuff going on. People selling everything, everywhere, fruits, meat, vegetables, clothes, anything you could imagine. Within the first hour I already shot my first roll. People are walking everywhere, lots of sounds and smells as you walk over the streets with open sewers. A man, moving a riding table trough the street. Young men, sorting out fish. Anything could happen on the streets. Walking up and down china town I took man shots, with sometimes a necessary break with a bottle of water. Me, a small bag, one lens and one camera.
Travelling with film can sound like it’s a bit of challenge and a hassle, but over the all the security points during this trip, with flights to Bangkok and internal flights, I had no problems at all. Just claim firmly the material can not go trough the scanner, hand it forward in a plastic bag and smile, you should be fine. As a thank you I had some small darkroom prints, it was incredible how happy the staff was with this nice gesture.
One of the greatest scenes I liked to shoot in Myanmar were the trains. In Yangon itself there was the circle train, which only ran half a circle around Yangon at the time I was there due to maintenance. However, the impressions weren’t any less. Stepping up in a local train station in the neighborhood I wasn’t sure were to buy a ticket. Another passenger however pointed my to a small house close to the track. After a friendly encounter with the ticket office I boarded the old train. Its main function is for local transport in Yangon. On the train you could buy lots of food. Ladies were walking with food carried upon their heads and sitting down, serving you once you decided to buy. It was a massive experience to see and to photograph.
As I progressed my trip I passed through many places in Myanmar. I visited the famous Inle Lake with the unique poses of the fishermen, the temples of Bagan and the city of Mandalay. Hiring a local tuk tuk driver as a guide in Mandalay was the perfect decision. It led me to the jade market where stones were being cut, traded and sold by phone to China.
In the last week I travelled up to Shipaw by train. A small town in the Shan state. From here we hiked 2 days into the mountains with only pure essentials. No room for my camera bag, I put it inside a t-shirt together with 3 rolls of film and my underwear and toothbrush. We hiked, for hours and hours with a small group I met in a hostel and a hired mountain guide. We spent the night at a local homestay, no running water and electricity. Advantage of a mechanical camera? It just works. On the second day we passed a school and visited it . As we had time to spent with the children I was lucky enough to photograph a few of them. None of them spoke any Burmese as they belonged to a minority, part of their education was taught in English due to lack of local tongue teachers.
Backpacking brings you back to the essence of what you need. After a long trip you realize less is more and that you don’t need any stuff, other than some basic clothes. When I look through an inverted 50mm lens om my light table and see my negatives I remember every shot I took. I remember every moment, even if the shots failed. Life or travel isn’t about perfect, it’s about doing it and experience it. Slow down, shoot film. Embrace whatever comes out of it. Grab your camera and get out there.
For all pictures of my trip to Myanmar and other trips please see my blog at jellevonk.nl