Stories lived

I saw a man bathing at a well in front of a ruined temple in Ava.

man washing ruins

I was in a horse cart, driving around the farms and tiny houses and drifts of brick and teak and carvings that were once the capital city Inwa. I made my driver stop, and tentatively approached the bathing man. The water flying from the bucket, the man small against the ruins, drew me.

man ruins

I felt intrusive. Every photo I take of a person feels like this – I want a moment, to capture a story, to see something in it – and I don’t want to treat people like objects. A constant tension. Asking creates something different, a showing off or posing or a V sign flashed. A conscious crafting. I want to see stories lived as well as stories told. There are many people who would tell me catching stories lived is objectifying. I hear that. And there is something important for me in capturing the moments where people aren’t shaping their stories, but just living them.

close up man washing

The man by the ruins, a man washing his bicycle in a hut made of garbage. The girl applying her day’s dhanakka in a tiny shack by the Ayerwaddy River, wooden huts perched in mounds of garbage where pigs and chickens root about, trucks gather sand that they sell for cement.

girl dhanakha

Crafting self for the world even at the absolute edge of “civilization.” I try to walk a taut line between capturing and respect.

I greet the girl with the hand mirror, exchange smiles. Hold up the camera – “is it okay?” She nods. I gesture to the man at the ruins. May I use your soap to wash my hands? He nods and pumps fresh water for me, smiles. When he is dressed, he poses, clean. We smile at each other.

clean

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