Tin Htet Paing is a senior reporter at English/Burmese news outlet Myanmar-Now. Alongside her articles, she makes use of photography to build a more definitive piece. Min Pyae Sone finds out more.
Following her membership and participation in an all-female local photography initiative Thuma Collective, she has been exploring her relationships with Yangon’s urban landscape through strong displays of both intellectual and artistic content.
Rather than describing her photography and photography in general as just a singular art form, she tries to look at it as a tool to capture and document reality from what basically is “the eye of the beholder.” More than just aesthetics, it something more than a genre defined by loosely-based characteristics.
Our conversation revolved mostly around what it means to be “contemporary” in Myanmar where the classification of art in its various forms is not well-established, let alone carried out. I observe what seemed to be both hesitation and discomfort in defining her own work. Tin Htet Paing believes photography as an art form should not be categorised easily as most of them contain intricate layers of meaning. With that, I agree.
Tin works in one of the more investigative news outlets in Myanmar. That alone, in my opinion, sparks a more out-of-the-box attitude that seemingly reflects in her work – compared to more personal takes that can be seen through the contemporary photography scene. Rather than just a hobby, photography serves as a tool to communicate with whether it be to an audience or with the subject in the frame.
There is a lack of human figures in most of her pieces, while a lot of her colleagues from the Thuma Collective have more personal projects. This provides an element of isolation and maybe even some satire, as such in her piece about an overhead bridge that no one even uses and everyone is seen using the road anyways.
In Myanmar, it is important to set our priorities straight and with baby steps, figure out whether to go with all these trends simultaneously emerging to promote a sense of ‘creativity,’ or to set firm standards and categories.
For Tin, the latter doesn’t seem too appealing. Here’s why in her words: “Globally, there are so many things that are regarded as contemporary like photography and documentaries. With all these labels, it’s just too confusing for me. Maybe I don’t have enough artistic maturity to understand all these. To be able to ‘breathe,’ I think we need a sort of relaxed setting for arts to develop here.”
“When it comes to professions, Myanmar people tend to add ‘Sayar’ or master to terms like photographers or painters, for example, ‘Dat Pone Sayar’ or ‘Ba Gyi Sayar.’ For me these are kind of offsetting, don’t you think? I prefer to regard myself as someone who takes photographs. That’s it.”
When it comes to photography, Tin Htet Paing prefers pieces that tell a story almost like a documentary but instead of delivering plain facts and information, it helps the viewer understand it more deeply by simply observing the artist’s narrative.
An example would be one of Tin’s favourites, Min Myo Nyan Min, a documentary photographer based in Yangon. Widely known as Ko Myo, he has extensively developed award-winning projects that revolve around illicit poaching and the lives of Myanmar’s wild elephants.
This is apparent in her latest series, “Beautiful Chaos.” It is a series that portrays the intrapersonal connection she has with Yangon’s physical identity. For me, this series sets my mind in the right direction when it comes to a collective identity or rather a “Yangon Identity.”
The series also explores specific concepts of gentrification and urban development in relation to how Tin is slowly becoming visually numb seeing the same construction nets and fences for long periods of time and when the process will eventually be over.
Another abnormal concept expressed by this series is the leapfrogging development of Yangon’s infrastructure but it’s not necessarily in a good way. Tin has described this ‘transitional’ period as ‘chaotic’ and a result of rapid development without a long term plan.
“A building is like a human being, eventually it will perish. Another one will take its place.”
Architectural photography, by nature, is often intended for commercial purposes, and buildings/architecture has been one of the main subjects for photography since technology made it possible.
As mentioned by Tin, this series isn’t a statement or a question by any means for the audience. This is “a conversation between [her] and the buildings.”
Still exploring new boundaries and all the different things photography has to offer, Tin is developing a better sense of artistic maturity and her best work is yet to come. It is already looking good now, I cannot wait to see what will be conceptualised in her future projects.