Photographer Nic Dunlop spent nearly 20 years chronicling life under military rule in Myanmar.
Nic Dunlop first travelled to Myanmar in 1995 – it was known as Burma back then – and has since returned more times than he can count. Now based in Bangkok, Dunlop has released a collection of images in a new book, Brave New Burma. Although Myanmar is moving from direct military rule to civilian government, with Aung San Suu Kyi becoming an international symbol of democracy, Dunlop’s images capture every-day life under the junta.
“One of my frustrations with traditional media is that it can only cover something if it’s dramatic,” he says. “I wanted to cover something that was ongoing.
“And that was difficult because it wasn’t always obvious – the military was so entrenched that there was no need to have troops on the streets. So on one hand I began to doubt my medium but it also became a unique challenge to find a way to convey this.”
In 1996, Dunlop gained access to Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s most prominent opposition politician, who spent years under house arrest.
“All the pictures of her that I had seen showed her looking glamorous and often smiling, as though it was a mere trifle to be under house arrest,” Dunlop says. “Those images contrasted with the kind of person I felt she was – a very courageous dissident.
“She’s a woman of real idealism and principle and her position had taken a toll – not just the pressure of every-day life but the pressure of history.”
Although Dunlop admires Syu Kyi, he admits meeting her cast her in a new light.
“A journalist friend went to do an interview so I went along to take photos,” he says. “My friend asked her about the student uprising in 1988 – the students then fled to the border of Burma and Thailand and became the All Burma Students Democratic Front and continued to oppose the junta. And she said, words to the effect of: ‘They should stop playing soldiers in the jungle and go abroad to get an education so they can come back and rebuild the country.’
“We were taken aback. These students weren’t children anymore and no one goes by choice into a malaria-infested jungle. We admired her but she came from a privileged background and there was a disconnect.”
Brave New Burma is currently available at Asiabooks and Hard Cover books.
By Tom Sturrock