Women began the practice of tattooing their faces in an attempt to destroying their beauty and detract attention from would-be kidnappers

Photographer David Heath spent five years travelling the countryside of Myanmar photographing its people. Many of his subjects had never been photographed before, but he persuaded them to step in front of the camera. With visas now being relaxed and the modern world knocking on the door, Heath has captured a way of life that is soon to change and a country that is going through transition. He talks to us about five people who made an impression on him on his journey.


The Naughty Novice

In Myanmar, young men training to be monks are known as novices until they reach the age of 20. This photo depicts a novice in the Shan State trying to escape the camera’s lens, as he is not permitted to ride a bike. I was in this location photographing a woman in the rice fields when a few novices sped by. I tried my best to capture them on film, but was not fast enough. It was like a playful game of cat and mouse as we tried to photograph them. Finally, when we pretended to turn our attention back to the rice fields, we were able to get this image. My favourite thing about this photo is the dramatic contrast of the bright colours and how he is positioned between the trees.

Novice on Bike


The Mischievous Monks In Bagan

This photograph was taken during lunch time at a monastery. I was outside and saw a few of the boys looking out the window. I called to them and began joking around and making funny gestures, which caught the attention of the others inside and drew them away from their meals. Suddenly, the whole group came to the window to join in the fun. They were all cheerful and quick to laugh. They really enjoyed getting their photo taken and viewing it afterwards. This was my first time visiting this monastery, I really liked the aesthetic of the bamboo buildings and windows.

Novices in Window


The Tattooed Woman In Rakhine

In generations past, many beautiful and hard-working women of the Chin Tribe were kidnapped by invaders and held against their will. To combat this, women began the practice of tattooing their faces in an attempt to destroying their beauty and detract attention from would-be kidnappers. The practice is now a vanishing tradition, but you can still find older women in rural villages, such as the woman in this picture, whose faces tell the story of their oppressive past. This particular woman lives in the Rakhine State, on the Kaladan River. The photo was taken in front of the bamboo hut where she lives. Upon seeing the photo of herself, she responded with a big smile of approval. She was very proud of her markings.

Chin lady portrait


The Young Nun In Yangon

This young girl, which I believe to be around six years old, is lining up to receive her daily meal at a nunnery in Yangon. They are often moving in lines like this, collecting donations or receiving food. She was probably the youngest there, and I thought she had a certain compelling look that captured her innocence. I once had a vision of taking a photograph of the nuns like this, with movement of the line reflected while one stood in focus. As is typical of children her age, it was difficult to for this young nun to stay still. She was quiet, shy, and more interested in getting her meal than having her photo taken. We needed a long exposure shot to make my vision come to life, so this was quite challenging. I didn’t think I was successful until I returned home and had the chance to review my shots, finding just this one image had turned out as I hoped.

Young Nun in Pink


The Chin Hunter

This Chin Hunter and Shaman proudly displayed his weapons in Lote Pe Village near Min Dat in western Myanmar. Many traditional hill tribes live in this region. This photo was taken in front of his hut, which overlooked a cliff with an amazing view. We asked if we could photograph him, and he was very proud to show off all of his weaponry, which consisted of a spear, an axe and a bow and arrow. These weapons are typically used to hunt small game such as wild boar, different kinds of deer, mountain cats and goats. They villagers hang skulls of these animals on their huts to ward off evil spirits. This hunter expressed amusement upon seeing his photo. This is a similar reaction as I have experienced throughout Myanmar. In general, people are quick to laugh and have an amazing sense of humor. I think this is one of the reasons why they are such a resilient culture.

Hunter_Shaman hires

To see more of Heath’s beautiful photographs, and to purchase a copy of his book Burma: An Enchanted Spirit, click here

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