Written review by
European photo coordinator The New York Times, France/USA
A great subject – the new capital of Myanmar is indeed completely surreal, a ghost city built in the middle of nowhere, a showy front for a regime that is at once dictatorial and invisible. Were you there as a tourist, part of a tour? Or was this a press trip? I’d be interesting in knowing more, and perhaps also to see that in your pictures, in order to visually explain the context in which you were authorized to take these pictures. My main issue with the series is your editing choices. While there are several wonderful pictures here that share a mood, a light, colors, and have multiple layers of meaning, there are also other images are so entirely different that they should in my view, have been left out of your final choice.
The pictures I would definitely keep are the ‘Wonderful World’ telephone booth. The lit-up 3-D map of the city. The young hotel employee standing sadly in the soft pink dusk. The little boy cleaning the empty train platform. The portrait of the taxi driver in his car, staring into a future that could be bleak or hopeful, a golden temple ahead that is at once a cherished symbol of the country’s religious majority and of the regime’s power. These are compelling images in which you captured a feeling of uncertainty, of surrealness, and that feeling is a thread that leads us through your train of thought.
The photograph of the peasant driving his oxen across the empty 20-lane highway contains an important piece of information – these empty roads are another sign of the hugeness of the regime’s megalomania. But composition-wise it is shot from too far and lacks some kind of element in the foreground to catch the viewer’s eye and lead him into the scene. The soldier in front of the gates is almost too tight. It seems to have been taken with a long lens that has flattened out the perspective. As for the family portrait, it departs starkly from the mood you’ve created with some of those first pictures. It is a standard, posed, contrived portrait with bright colors that lack subtelty. The very wide-angle lens keeps you (and us) far from the subjects. This is a shame because it this is a very interesting character, the second person you are bringing introducing us to in a country where personal encounters can be impeded, and the polar opposite of the taxi driver. This engineer is part of a minute, well-off bourgeoisie upheld by the regime, the rich minority who can afford to buy all the modern appliances, toys and clothes that are completely out of reach for 99% of the population.
From your website I can see that you have spent time documenting Myanmar, and there is a wide variety of pictures to choose from. I would suggest going back to them all and reviewing your edit. The process of editing can be painful, one must make ruthless choices and sometimes leave out pictures that one holds dear. In a satisfactory final edit, each picture must hold meaning within the larger story, and the pictures must be consistent in terms of a visual language. The eye will then travel through the series, led by a narrative that unfolds from the first to the last image. You have enough material overall to do this.
Your Sagrada Familia series is also a mix of pictures taken with different moods and styles, hence a sense that it is unfinished – justifiably, since you shot it in only just over 1 day less! But I see something different and promising here about you as a photographer: in some of those pictures you have captured situations with an eye for the comic. The couple of Asians selfy-ing themselves, the very tightly group of tourists all looking up with an identical expression of expectancy (with a beautifully soft light falling on their faces), the view from above over the blue-topped tourist buses and ant-like activity. You are really at your best when you look at people in a quasi-anthropological eye, asking yourself “what is this strange activity that this bizarre species called ‘humans’ is so intent in pursuing?.” I feel that this humoristic take on our little human absurdities could be a lead for you to explore as a photographer.