It was about a decade ago, in the Yangon drizzle, that Julian Ray came upon a beautiful blue door. He stabilized his camera on a pile of sandbags, but the shot wasn’t quite right. A few days later he returned for another attempt, only to find the door had been torn down. A wake up call, if the photographer needed one: this morsel of Myanmar’s heritage—the weathered gateway—must be recorded.
Eight hundred doors later and Julian is showcasing his project titled Our Old Doors at Trish Gallery. About 30 photographs have been selected, and many others will be included in a planned coffee-table book. Sun-drenched teak panels in Bagan, tired hinges in Chinatown, and even the two-century old entrance to storied Mingun Pagoda get a look in. The composition, colors and textures of each door evokes a portal to another time, a fantasy bolstered by the juxtaposition of modern developments mushrooming around Myanmar’s cities.
“We have a lot of modernization coming in Myanmar and in a simple way [the photographs] represent the rich art, culture, and wealth of the country,” said Julian. The intersection of time and weather has created a “capricious nature that very unintentionally has turned into a still life,” said Julian of the doors, adding, “A lot are just phenomenal, just works of art unto themselves.”
As stunning as they are, the doors can easily be lumped in with prosaic sights on a stroll and therefore go unappreciated. Julian dodges this pitfall with what he describes as “zen street walking,” an ultra conscious way to track not only the movements of the body but the sights that it passes. By focusing on an object as commonplace as a door, he encourages people to become more mindful of Myanmar’s hidden gems.
Yangon is strewn with everyday antiques that on closer inspection reveal glimpses of its industrious past. Once gone, these will be hard to replace, like throwing away old torn jeans for some shop-fresh ‘distressed denim.’ A small example is a peeled turquoise door oozing with character that on Julian’s second visit had been given a neat purple finish. In this sense, the photographer, who has lived in Myanmar full-time since 2011, sees his project partly as a reflection on the race to modernize. His doors have stories and are “like children,” he explains. “I value each for who they are and their quirks.” Visitors to the exhibition can enjoy and buy the photographs during its run.
Our Old Doors shows in Trish Gallery on Min Kyaung Street in Dagon Township from September 29-October 31. The gallery opens from Tuesday-Sunday, 9am-5pm. Visit trishgallery.com.