Distance covered: 8,272 km (5,140 miles)
Subjects found: 12
Sometimes we search for days, and come up empty-handed. Today, though, our subject found us, before we’d even begun.
Almost five years ago, my brother and I visited a small village in central Myanmar. We spent the day in the company of several young local girls who showed us their village temple, their primary school, and their family homes. At the end of the day, they listed their anglicised names in the back of my guidebook: Than Than, Zin Zin, Moe Moe, Win Win, and Moenwe.
I’d taken a portrait of one of the girls – it was Zin Zin, I was certain. Marinho and I went searching for her today.
Before we’d even entered the village, we were approached by a girl selling jade necklaces. Her face seemed very familiar. Was she the girl we were looking for?
I asked her name.
‘Itueh,’ she said.
No, it couldn’t be her; her name wasn’t on the list.
‘Show her the photo,’ said Marinho, and I handed her the portrait.
‘Do you know this girl?’ I asked. ‘Her name is Zin Zin.’
She laughed, and pointed at another girl standing nearby.
‘That’s Zin Zin,’ she said.
‘It can’t be,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t look like her at all.’
The mystery girl pointed at the photograph.
‘This is me.’
I was puzzled, and showed her the guidebook. Zin Zin came to see. So did Than Than and Moenwe – who, by chance, were standing only metres away.
‘Your name isn’t here,’ I told the mystery girl, scanning the list again.
She pointed out a sixth name, beneath the others, written in Burmese.
‘Itueh,’ she said, and smiled.
I bought the necklace.
I’ll admit I’ve been a very reluctant photographer over the past seven weeks.
When The Human, Earth Project began, I hadn’t taken a portrait for over two years, and didn’t care to begin again. Friends told me I’d feel differently once I was in Asia, with a brand new camera in my hands – but I didn’t.
In the past fifty days, I’ve seen thousands of wonderful faces – and have let them all pass, taking only the portraits needed for the project.
In Myanmar, Southeast Asia blends with the Indian subcontinent, giving rise to some of the most beautiful faces I’ve ever seen, and one of the most welcoming cultures I’ve ever had the pleasure to encounter. It was here, five years ago, that my initial interest in portrait photography became a true passion. This is how it all began – and, once again, Myanmar is working its magic on me…