The title image is of Win Kyaw Zan when he and I were rolling along the Ayeyawady River, Myanmar at sunset. I was lucky to have him as my guide when I visited his beautiful country.
Win Kyaw Zan has been a professional photographer and tour guide for twenty years. He is a native of Yangon, Myanmar. He has published seven books of photography and has had several exhibitions of his work in Yangon.
Although the Five Questions Series usually features writers, I know my readers like the inspiration of hearing from artists working in other media. As I got to know Win as my tour guide and then as an artist, I knew I had to interview him for this series. His work and philosophy are both very inspiring.
Win Kyaw Zan: How did you get interested in photography?
I have been interested in painting since childhood, and I painted a lot when I was young.
In 1997 I met National Geographic photographer, Nevada Wier. Her tour company was looking for a guide interested in adventure travel who also had a background in art. She went on a trip with me, and at the end she gave me a camera, a Canon Rebel.
Win Kyaw Zan: How have you developed as a photographer?
In the beginning I tried to learn all the rules of photography: color, light, action, pattern. I read all the books. I learned from other photographers, from the best portrait and landscape photographers. At some point I got lost. I didn’t know what images I was supposed to take. I didn’t know what I was good at. Then I asked myself this question: What am I looking for? And when I looked back at all of the images I had taken up to that date, I finally understood.
I am looking for beauty. I see beauty in every age, in every person, everywhere I go. Even in the sick and the ugly, I see beauty.
Win Kyaw Zan: Please elaborate on your notion of beauty.
Let’s say I come upon an argument between a husband and wife. Even in their argument I want to find a way to find beauty. For them, they are angry, upset with each other. For me, they are beautiful. There is beauty in the fight, and I want to capture it. They are fighting because they care about one another. The husband wants coffee. The wife thinks it’s not good for his health. I want to create an image of the fight so that anyone looking at it will say, “How beautiful.”
It’s a question of choosing the perspective, color, light, angle, frame, exposure, expression. I choose every detail to bring out the beauty of the ugliest person, the ugliest situation, the worst suffering.
Let’s say I come to a landscape, and I see nothing. I ask myself, “Where is the beauty?” Then I realize, “Oh, the beauty is in the nothing.” Maybe it is just a line of landscape along the sky. Just a line.
Win Kyaw Zan: Choose one of your images and analyze it for us.
Here is one of my favorite images. It is of the Thiri Mingalar Fish Market, Yangon, at four o’clock in the morning. What do you see?
Everyone is smiling. They are surrounded by color and energy, and although photographs cannot convey odor, this warehouse is saturated in the rich smells of melting ice and salt and fish, beautifully arranged.
Win Kyaw Zan: What is your intention now as an artist?
I have learned that there is beauty in everyone. It’s not that the people you’re looking at are ugly. You’re simply looking at them from the wrong angle. It’s a question of changing your perspective, as I’ve said.
Here is a boy whose head is being shaved as he becomes a monk. The sad look and a tear drop make the photo. He is at the very least apprehensive about the process, but I surely find beauty when I look into his eyes .
If people realize there is beauty in everyone, and if people start to understand this basic principle through my work, then my mission as an artist is realized.
JTA: What a delight it has been to get to know Win and his work. Upon reflecting on his notion of beauty as central to his art, I have now been able to articulate what I do when I create characters: I fall in love with them.
See also: Five Questions Series Archives
This post was written by Julie Tetel Andresen