Documenting Yangon

The old colonial architecture (I wrote about it here) is one of Yangon’s greatest assets. Everywhere in the downtown area you are surrounded by the crumbling jewels from the old days, setting you off on a trip back in time. Alas, there does not seem to be a decent effort out there at making an appealing visual document of this amazing heritage.


As renovation projects have started everywhere, many buildings will be converted into boutique hotels or have other new and expensive functions. An example is below – the former Ministry of Railways building near the Aung San market will be converted into a 5-star Peninsula hotel, nestled in a new mega complex by Yoma.


But as the charm of Yangon is how these old buildings act as the backdrop to normal life it would be sad to see the city turn into a Disneyland.

Disneyland was one of the association when I saw this. It seems that the only “serious” attempt at bringing the charms of the old Yangon to a wider (armchair) audience consists of a veritable HDR orgy.

The two photographers Jacques Maudy and Jimi Casaccia have good aims – they support the Yangon Heritage Trust and want to raise awareness among Myanmar officials that there is a lot of inherent value in protecting these buildings.

I would think though that there is no need whatsoever to put the buildings into such scenes of visual overkill. Isn’t their effect already grand enough when taking solid architectural shots in decent morning or evening light?

We all do a little editing. That includes me, I use an effect similar to HDR. This is mainly because I am no professional photographer but like to “upgrade” the photos shown on this blog and because of the hobby kit I’m using (an iPhone until I lost it in a Yangon taxi and a Canon G12).

Yet excessive HDR for me has a 90s-kitsch feel to it. It is an artistic form but cannot really claim to be documenting its objects in a neutral way (this article probably sums it up nicely albeit polemically).

At this critical juncture, I feel what Yangon needs is realistic documentation. Just let the buildings speak for themselves and let them tell their history, do not try to superimpose anything on them. If properly done, the effect will be grand enough.



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