Their faces marked with thanaka (grounded tree bark) to express their personalities, an old woman and a young boy gaze steadily at me. Their joy at being on camera is evident.
In an adjacent photo, women lead a colourful procession to the Shwedagon Pagoda, the world’s oldest historical pagoda. We look up from the ground – in homage to the dragon (dagon) – to the golden hues and minarets dominating the skyline.
These glimpses of spirit and resilience show a city on the threshold of democracy, free trade – and development.
Yangon (Rangoon) in Myanmar, described as ‘the last intact city in Asia’, has fierce supporters.
Two independent reporters Jacques Maudy and Jimi Casaccia were invited to document up to 200 heritage buildings, while their hosts, the Yangon Heritage Trust, lobbied for legislation to protect their architectural heritage.
The Brisbane Powerhouse hosted the recent book launch and will exhibit the vibrant photographs until September 15.
In 1946, General Aung San protested at the Shwedagon Pagoda against British colonial rule and in 1988, his peace-activist daughter Aung San Suu Kyi protested against the military junta, Maudy said at the launch.
Surprisingly, Maudy and Casaccia gained access to the Secretariat Building – to the room where General Aung San was assassinated in 1947.
Maudy said the almost 120-year-old imposing red-brick building, “the centre of power in Burma and in the centre of the city”, had been abandoned for about 60 years.
Photographs show the neglect and shabby chic of buildings from the Victorian-style Pegu Club, built for British army officers, to the blue stylings of Pan Soe Dan Street and City Hall.
At the launch, Senator Bob Carr referenced his maiden parliamentary speech and pledged Australia’s support: “… because … in a corner of Rangoon you can find … a synagogue created by Jews from Iraq in the 1890s, sitting next to a 1914 Sunni madrasa, which in turn faces a Hindu temple not far from a Hokkien temple and not far from Methodist, Catholic and Anglican churches.”
Pictures can speak louder than words.
Maudy and Casaccia’s early photographs convinced the Myanmar government to cancel building permits and delay development until the Yangon Heritage Trust’s recommendations were finalised.
As an aside: At their book launch in Bangkok, Maudy and Casaccia spent a ‘surprising’ 1.5 hours answering questions from foreign correspondents. They described Myanmar as ‘easy for photographers’ and encouraged everyone to visit.
This article first appeared at www.4zzzfm.org.au