Yu Yu Myint Than’s latest exhibition, ‘Memory Lane,’ is a collection of dreamy and thought-provoking images inspired by stories of domestic violence and a longing for home. The photos have an abstract quality and beautifully portray personal moments of quiet with subjects deep in thought or exposed on a landscape at dusk. They appear to depict memories or dreams, leaving a lot of interpretation to the viewer. One thing for certain though, is that they are packed with haunting emotion.
Yu Yu’s interest in photography came about when she was studying a post-graduate degree in education in Hong Kong. She was struggling with her studies and living in a ‘matchbox’ apartment so she often went outdoors to sit in parks and escape it all.
She would bring her camera with her so as not to be mistaken as someone waiting to be approached about a sexual encounter which was not unusual in the disadvantaged neighbourhood she lived in.
From having the camera with her, a love of photography – particularly street – blossomed. And it was liberating:
“I had been an introvert and with the camera I found myself more talkative and more confident,” said Yu Yu.
She later quit her studies and returned to Myanmar, with a bigger appetite for photography than ever before.
Soon after, she won a place in a three-month photography workshop. The workshop took her to Meiktila which in 2014, was still suffering from the after effects of inter-religious riots in which 40 people were killed a year earlier. Her photography was focusing on the positive connections between Buddhist and Muslim religious communities.
“There was a lot of pressure because it was a sensitive issue and a lot of people questioned me. But I found that the more they stopped me, the more I wanted to continue.”
After quitting her teacher training job, she took up a new job with Myanmar Times as a photojournalist and moved through this and other commissioned photography work harnessing and cultivating her skills all the while. But over time, she found that she didn’t like the restrictive nature of commissioned projects. Bravely she decided to focus her own personal projects while taking a job managing Myanmar Deitta – Yangon’s most active photography gallery. Now, she mostly enjoys work connected with women’s issues and on religious themes.
“Usually I pick a subject for one of two reasons- the first reason is because I enjoy it and the second reason is because I hate it.”
‘Memory Lane’ came about from a connection she made with a young girl named San Say Khine who, along with another young girl named Thazin, was a subject of a high-profile case of torture and abuse inflicted by their employers were they worked (without pay) at a well-known tailor shop in Yangon. After their physical trauma ended and they were rescued, Yu Yu got to know San Say Khine. Yu Yu had initially set about with a reportage style of documenting her story, but after getting to know the girl, who disliked the photos newspapers published of her severely scarred and damaged skin, Yu Yu thought the visual language style of dreams and memories was the most appropriate way to photograph the series.
Yu Yu travelled to San Say Khine’s home village in Kawmhu which is also the home constituency of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. From here she shot a series of photos to depict the girl’s memories, traumas, longings and dreams.
“I wanted to build a bridge between her and the audience on the theme of missing home because everyone has a home and everyone has an experience of missing home.”
Life as a female photographer in Myanmar is not without its challenges. From her experience, Yu Yu claims, “sometimes people underestimate the capacity of women. The industry is also a male-dominated industry. For assignments, men are more likely to be chosen.”
“We only started very seriously with photography after the Saffron Revolution so it came late – we don’t have the right schools or institutions.”
Yu Yu’s talent has won her scholarships and awards from across the globe including Yangon, Bangkok, New York, Bali, South Korea, Malaysia and Cambodia.
“My happiest time is when I can echo myself through my subject and my story.”
More of Yu Yu’s work can be seen at www.yuyumyintthan.com.