brennan o’connor – on the run

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Brennan O’Connor

On The Run

play this essay

 

‘On the Run’ documents tribal groups from Burma who have been pushed off their land by the junta. Some of them have moved to rebel controlled zones. Other groups like the Karen have left the country only to languish for decades ‘warehoused’ in overcrowded Thai refugee camps. The story follows them to Canada where thousands have recently resettled.

At the front lines of Burma’s largest rebel armies, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and the Shan State Army South (SSA), I photographed the soldiers and hundreds of internally displaced people (IDP) who live alongside them.

At Loi Taileng – the headquarters of the SSA, camped on the Thai/ Burma border, their world is a barren hilltop  no longer than 300 meters wide by 3.5 km in length that they can’t leave. Landmines lay scattered in the valleys below. On one side is the Thai border patrol and on the other is their dire enemy: Burmese government troops, based on the adjacent mountain. The Shan are not recognized as refugees by the Thai government.

Moo Jai, a Karen tribeswoman who has spent most of her life living in Thai refugee camps describes what her life was like when she lived in Burma.

“When the government troops took over our village I was only six-years old. If the Burmese military attacked a Karen village they would kill everyone. It didn’t make a difference whether you were old, young, man or a woman. We hid in the jungle for a couple of weeks. By the time we reached the Thai refugee camp our rice was finished.”

Now she and her husband are part of  30,000 ethnic minorities from Burma being resettled to Canada, the US and other UN countries participating in what the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) described in a recent report as ‘the world’s largest refugee resettlement operation’.

 

Bio:

The bulk of my work focuses on people or movements existing on the fringes of society. As a loner I am fascinated by people or groups who live outside of mainstream society. My photos explore the different ways that conformity and non-conformity plays out in these social microcosms which challenge popular notions of sexuality, identity and community.

My ongoing projects include Burlesque Revival, Thai Hill tribes at Historic Crossroads and On the Run which documents the plight of Burmese ethnic minorities in Southeast Asia and Canada. I am the president of NOMAD Photos agency; a Canadian cooperative of photojournalists dedicated to using the economic efficiencies and social power of a collective to highlight under-reported social, political, health and environmental issues worldwide.

 

Related links

Brennan O’Connor

 

Editor’s Note:

Please only one comment per person under this essay.. Further discussions should take place under Dialogue..

Many thanks… david alan harvey

48 Responses to “brennan o’connor – on the run”


  • The photos are technically good photos. But I’m just not drawn into this. Just another group of displaced people. I don’t get any real connection from this essay. It’s not enough just to show displaced people anymore. Photographically, it needs to be something special. This essay doesn’t seem special to me.

  • a story with a happy end.
    great pictures. each is very strong, standing for itself, forming an interesting narrative.
    it leaves a question open to me – who was not able to resettle to Canada, what happened to those?

  • There’s something surreal about these images, almost too technically perfect, having trouble adjusted to this look. I commend your courage and bravery to shoot an assignment as this but I have to agree with Jim, the essay lacks gravity. Maybe a different edit, perhaps more time shooting? I feel it needs to get past the superficiality of the slick photos and go a little deeper. Also believe there are too many cliché photos, feels a little set up. I get the feeling this is supposed to be reportage, I’m not sure.

  • Like many of the essays on Burn, I think this could benefit from a much tighter edit. Whenever I see an essay load and I see that there are over 20 pics, I become very skeptical (Carl Bower’s Chica Barbie is a recent exception that worked as it happily demolished my skepticism).

    I think 1, 3, 9, 13, 19, 20 are very good, very strong photographs. You lose some of the narrative connective tissue by omitting the others — maybe you need 14 for its narrative value — but I think you make a more compelling essay.

  • HOOKSTRAPPED…

    there are 18 different pictures in this essay…if i were just going for best pics, i surely would have this essay down to 5 or 6 pictures…in the case of a somewhat unseen Burma and the Canadian connection, i left in a few “point pictures” to let the story breathe a bit….also these essays are presented for the most part as works in progress and i often leave it loose just so the comments will benefit the photographer, as i am sure your comment will indeed…

    cheers, david

  • Brennan,

    this is a nice essay. I agree with hookstrapped that some photographs could be taken out, but only one or two…

    I like the way you laid out this essay chronologically.. with the first section photographs of the repression of the people and the second section being the lives they now live. I did not understand the essay until the photograph of a family under the “immigration to canada” sign, after that it all came together.

    the photograph that made me smile was #17.. it is not a technically perfect fantastic standalone photograph but because you made a similar photograph (number 6, correct me if I’m wrong but a family in the refugee camp?) I immediately recalled it and enjoyed knowing that these people are still living and enjoying their lives.. i can’t explain it much better than that, I hope you understand what I mean! overall good essay, nice black and white images.

    p.s. film or digital?

    p.p.s. i just noticed all the posters of women on the wall in #17! gotta love it hahaha

  • 19 is absolutely stunning… the whole essay was so pleasant to look at, over and over.

    Loved the texture of the B&W

    congrats.

  • Brennan

    Congratulations. Good to see this here.

    A great story, worth expanding. Good to see a story with a hopeful ending.

    Curious to hear criticism for being too perfect of “slick”. No need to apologize for good craftsmanship although a couple of images do fall down in that regard, particularly no.6.

    There are some very impressive images here. I do agree the essay needs some polishing.

  • brendan,

    congraqtulations on a strong set of images being published here.

    you present an interesting window into something we know so little about. number 16 says it all for me. just great. (wall mart seems to be the hot ticket around here recently ;-p)

    I hope that this is an ongoing body of work and that you’ll stay with this family as they adjust to their new lives and build a community. it would certainly be interesting to see how the ‘world’s largest refugee resettlement operation’ pans out…

    cheers

  • I like it. Some very nice pics. Nice texsture.

  • I would actually like to see more pictures. Possibly because it’s a story I know nothing about, possibly because I liked the photos so much. Not sure about a happy ending though? Surely having a good life where you live would be the best result?

  • like it !!!!!!

    No 9 rules for me ……..

    cheers

  • This reminds me of the Burmese people who lives here in my hometown in Norway. I had a short summer job just hanging out with them, watching movies and trying to teach them how to use cameras. It was a strange summer, but it was nice to get to know them. Looking at this essay make me want to do a story on them.

    All is good, except that I’d love to see more sides of their new life in Canada, there must be much more to be explored there. You have many strong ones, it’s tightly edited and the story moves forward all the time. The girl behind the fence is brilliant; her happy face and the diagonal lines in her shirt which echoes the diagonal fence. Thanks for sharing!

  • This is a worthy story that I think would make a better article. I am not very keen on it as a photo essay. However, the pictures that I like or find most interesting are #1, #7, #8, #11, #17, #19, #20. I think it’s that I find it too complicated or if the pictures were more compelling in themselves (as we saw with the last essay by Carl Bowers), I’d like it more. What I do like though is the shift from one country to another. I find that an unusual angle but it probably makes my criticism somewhat contradictory. I guess ultimately I want to see the story told with better pictures. Again, I’d like it better in colour.

  • I get the feeling from the author’s intro., that it must have been a huge job to select from all the photographs taken on this re-location story. There are some very powerful images in the sequence and I’m wondering if – not only for this essay but for all photogs who have amassed a vast body of work on a single subject – that the idea behind the sequencing or, how to go about telling the story, is what should dictate image selection (ie as the starting point). I suspect that it would be all too easy to select the favourite or ‘most powerful images’ and then think of a way of how to go about sequencing them. Just thinking aloud on this because the story could be told in so many different ways…

    One of my favourite images is of the hands pointing to photos pinned on the wall with the places where the tribal people from Burma now live – scattered around it seems. I would love that as a starting point, and to trace the story backwards… just a thought…

    Thanks so much for documenting and telling their story! I hope you will continue and that they will find peace and joy in Canada. Thanks so much!!! : )

  • Stupid Photographer

    Today, I will get a stupid “I ignore Jim” button. Next time you see me, I’ll be wearing it, prominently displayed.

  • I like !!!The photos are technically so good photos and congraqtulations on a strong essay being published here on Burn.
    un saludo

  • Today, I will get a stupid “I ignore Jim” button. Next time you see me, I’ll be wearing it, prominently displayed.
    ——————————

    This kind of comment has become as predicable as Jim’s one-lining “first in” dismisses, except at least his are about the essay shown.

    If we go by te ubiquitousness of the subject (people/refugees dealing with tyranny), from the point of view of a newspaper editor, facts do confirm his opinion. Very few people give a fuck about the plight of people in Burma, and now even less, that president O. wants to try a more conciliatory approach towards the Junta. Stupid P. too seems agree with Jim, having none to say, so in a way, he/she is even more dismissive than Jim’s then (send me an “ignore button”, Stoopid, if any left, ahah).

    I agree with everyone on the pictures, some are good, others lack impact, work in progress anyway, I wish there had been a few more that were attempting a more psychological approach of what it is they might feel (and yet, having us ask questions, not throw answers), what they find themselves into. especially as concerns the grand move to another country.

    Though I like those of the meandering lines of people taken from above (it’s like nothing will ever change for some, exodus, just like thousand years ago), I am going to say that psychologically, a bit physically too, you as a person may have been as close as possible, but your camera eye less, paraphrasing Capa again.

    Frankly, like David often says, you are almost there. For me, it’s as much shooting one’s backyard as anything. Lately I have done again some reading on astronomy and I can confirm: 10 000 miles away is still here, ie. home and our backyard.

    Thanks, Brennan for telling us.

  • 17 very talling, 19 very nice, some proper time spent on this

  • Nice collection of pictures. I would say that I liked every single one of them. As for the theme, the feeling of hardship expressed in the words did not come through in the pictures, but, since the photographer came upon his subjects after the worst hardships were behind them, this is not a bad thing. In this case, I think more narration would be a good thing, so that we could grasp what happened in the lives of these people who we see in relative benign situation.

    Sometimes, it seems to me, that we have come to a point where, to be considered a relevant and worthwhile documentary essay, the pictures must show the worst kinds of human suffering and depravity – allegedly to cause us all to care and to right the problem and be sure that it doesn’t happen again.

    What I think is actually happening is that we are becoming inured to all the hardship and suffering out there. The problems do not get righted, they happen again and again, every day, and we only really care when they strike close to home, family, or country.

    So, to find the balance that reaches beyond voyeurism to cause us to understand and care – that is the big challenge. I think this essay is an imcomplete step in the right direction.

    http://wasillaalaskaby300.squarespace.com/

  • There are some really compelling images here. # 15 and 16 really strike me. I’m curious to know what they are thinking being in such a different world. They lend themselves to some side-by-side comparisons. I really would like to see some images of the family as they deal with their first Canadian winter. I think this story is just starting. Stay with it.

  • guns
    and
    laughter….
    stories..
    peoples lives
    and
    homes….
    prayers..
    music
    as
    comfort…
    soulful
    images…..
    ***

  • Hey Everyone,

    Thanks for all of your comments!I just got back into Toronto after visiting my Karen friends. I didn’t realise the essay would be published this Saturday. I will respond more first thing tomorrow morning.
    Thanks again!!

  • Some really great shots, with strong technical ability. I had to take some time and sleep on this one to figure out why it did not have a strong punch in the gut for me. Looking at it again, many of the images depict place and fact in a strong and clever way but the emotional impact of those in the images is lacking. There is a tentative distance between the viewer and the subject. I think this is a fine essay and worth digging into deeper but I would like to connect a bit more with these people in order to take the essay to the next level.

    Congrats Brennan and all the best.

    Frank

  • I spent a long time reading your text and then looking at the photos and the captions. And thinking..It seems that it must be a terrible job to have to narrow down your choice to 20 or under and i sympathize with that task. Phew. With that in mind i thought that there were too many soldiers. Let’s face it, most western viewers go positively numb when they see photos of soldiers. You explained in your text about the camps, the armies that guard them. I was especially aghast at the hilltop camp that’s 300 meters wide and 3.5 kilometers long and the people cannot leave. Armies to the right of you, armies to the left of you, land-mines below you. What a horrendous way to live! However, i didn’t need more than one photo of soldiers to demonstrate the proximity of army to refugees. Eliminating some of those would have left more room for unique shots of individuals and the context of camp life, (although preferably not all taken on Children’s Day which wouldn’t seem to show the grind and routine of day-to-day camp life). Those were the photos that touched me most. Photos like the girl behind the fence, 1, 5, 6&17,11, 12, 13 (this should have been the cover photo, imo), 14 and 19. I guess 17 is my favorite because of the irony of the western pin-up girls which was a very powerful message.

    Also, while many here have praised your technical expertise, i do not agree. I see a LOT of digital noise, shadows that are really badly mucked up, low contrast soupy grays, obliterated skies. I would think that if you were in Thailand, Burma and Canada shooting this group that you would have had a great selection of properly exposed photos and would not have had to rely on anything less than technical perfection. I realize i’m the only one here who has a problem with this aspect of the essay but i guess i expect a lot from Burn essays and also from someone as qualified as you seem to be to match the talent of your eye with the technical ability to handle your camera.

    A really great topic, however and i respect the range of your coverage, the effort to get it right and your powerful imagery. Also, that you internalized so much of the heart of this group. I look forward to further development. Good luck!

    Best
    Kathleen

  • Brennan. My initial feeling, response, to these photographs was of interest and admiration that you took the story on to another plane. Well done for going further than most would do.

    I also liked your style of photography. I found it very connected, as I felt connected to the character and feelings of those people, as much as one could. As far as which images worked most strongly for me I wont say as I read recently from the Webb’s interview with DAH, that the best way for her as far as editing goes is trusting her first gut response to an image.

    I often don’t read the essay and view the images on there own to see how i connect with it. I did this with yours and felt I didn’t need any words to get what was happening to these people.

    I’m very interested to see more of your work.

    I think your got talent in this medium. Go for it. Dont let the cynicism and 1-eyed mind set of some influence your confidence in your work. I dont think David would go to the trouble if he didn’t see something in your work as many of us do also.

  • Hi Brennan, I’m really intrigued by your work and find my own response to it quite mixed. I enjoy the graphic quality of many of your images but wonder if it is this that detracts, for me, from a sense of intimacy and connection with your subject. The images leave me at a distance from the people though 19 & 13 are exceptions here… Like Kathleen, I’m confused about the comments re. technique – noise and clipping are apparent on many images.

    However, I hope you are able to develop this essay – the narrative line is very powerful – and this is a story that should be told. All the best, Steve

  • Brennan!

    First of all, congratulations on the publication. It’s great to see something from NOMAD here.

    As both a viewer and a photographer, my first inclination toward stories is a simple one: am i engage and is this a story that I know little about and has the narrative and pictures given me something, shed light upon a story with which I had not been familiar. Sometimes i think that the ‘real’ failure often comes from the viewers and a certain expectation that predominates here and elsewhere that pictures be the be-all-to-end-all of a particular story. for me, it is important the a photographer, in the best way and with the most depth possible, allow the viewer a threshhold through which they can begin their own exploration, reading, research, etc. For me, you’ve done this and more so. You’ve allow us a window into a group of people and a story of which I knew little of: I am still amazed at the extraordinary richness of our city and the stories that are here to be mined….but that is true of all places as well. some of the pics are just terrific (i too love the ‘camp-fire-in-the-apartment-sing-along’ picture, especially juxtaposed with the pictures/posters on the wall, it makes for a powerful collision: the reality of their former life (the intial pics) with the life in T-dot)….

    strong work,a terrific story which i await even further exploratin. who said photographing in Walmart is difficult? ;)))…..

    in the end, i sometimes fear that we extrapolae too much, they we burnden the responsibility on the photographc narrative too much, rather than to allow pictures todo what they do best: offer us, readers, the opportunity to be exposed to a story, to learn or at least begin to learn about the lives of people we had not earlier encountered or thought of….this, as i’ve harped on so often over the past 2 1/2 years, should be the work of the reader, the responsibilty of the reader, if the photographer has done her/his job it making the debth of connection….i would love for this story to have shown even more, more pics, more stuff for Toronto,but then again, i dont have a short attention span…give me more :)))…

    the adjustment to life here for these families is only just beginning…and as an immigrant myself married to an immigrant, the journey is all from here and all that messay, difficult, profound journey to shape the making of a new life…

    well done Brennan…and big ups for NOMAD!

    cheers
    bob

  • Immensely impressive project but found there was too much to take in on the first view – realizing how difficult it must be to know what level of detail to pitch it at for photo magazine purposes – and would have prefered perhaps a shorter more literal story, with its focus on what they’re getting away from.

    Best image is 16 with Santa looking over his shoulder, also 17 – is the poster with all the writing on significant to their adventure?

    I’d also like to know what equipment was used in this.

    Was grateful for Nomad coming to my attention here.

  • bravo pour ce reportage. immense projet. bonne continuation.

  • First of all I want to thank everyone for responding. In this digital era it’s become so easy for a photographer to send links for critique which has maybe made it a little overwhelming for editors and others. It’s amazing to have so many people respond with comments and critique. It reminds me of when I was student at Loyalist College and we would lay out our freshly printed prints in critique class. I really miss that! Nice to get a taste of it again.

    Jim:

    I was looking forward to how you might respond as your comments tend to more negative than positive. I’m not sure if it would have be better if you liked the essay or not but I do appreciate that you take the time to comment. Every group needs a dissenter right? Sometimes one can learn more from what people don’t like then what they like but only if they explain what they don’t like it. Although often you fail in this regards I think in my situation you were clear.

    Salvatore :

    First of all I want to clarify that nothing in this essay is set up. It’s all raw reportage. You wrote: “There’s something surreal about these images, almost too technically perfect, having trouble adjusted to this look.” I’m not sure how I feel about this comment. I certainly never felt that my work was too technically perfect so on one hand I can’t help but feel complimented by this comment even though that was not your intention. But I too feel this way when I look at much of the stock photography out there. Much of the work is too clean but void of feeling and emotion. I found the Karen ( the main subjects of this series) to be quite serious people. I think the fact that they have been fighting one of the longest civil wars in recorded history might attribute to this. When I first started this essay I wondered how I can get past this and document what they are really feeling inside. I think the answer is that my subject matter requires more time than most essays to achieve this.

    Hookstrapped:

    I agree I would normally edit tighter but if I did that for Burn I would certainly miss out on all of your valuable criticisms, right? Thanks for telling me which ones you like the most. Very helpful.

    Jope:

    I’m glad you like it! You wrote: “the photograph that made me smile was #17.. It is not a technically perfect fantastic standalone photograph but because you made a similar photograph (number 6, correct me if I’m wrong but a family in the refugee camp?)”

    Sadly the Shan soldiers in photo 6 are still trapped on a barren hilltop in between the Burmese and Thai military with no where to go. Although the Shan are one of the biggest ethnic minorities in the country unlike the Karen they can’t apply for refugee protection in Thailand. When they do make it into Thailand they have to sneak around and are subjected to arrests and deportations.

    Gordon Lafleur:

    You wrote: “Curious to hear criticism for being too perfect of “slick”. No need to apologize for good craftsmanship although a couple of images do fall down in that regard, particularly no.6.”

    As I mentioned above I’m not sure how to respond to those comments. I can only assume that they meant to write that some of the photos are slick but lack feeling?? Am I right?

    Colin:

    Thanks that was my intention. The situation in Burma has been so ignored by the world. It’s really horrible considering how long it’s been going on. They are many American and Canadian companies who still make money off the people’s suffering under the radar of sanctions by operating under subsidiary companies.

    Bjarte Edvardsen:

    You should start an essay on this subject matter. Obviously you already have the connections. More people need to know.

    Andrea C:

    Thanks for responding! I shot it in color with the intention of using it in that format but in the end I felt that the colors distracted from the story so I converted to B & W.

    Jenny Lynn Walker:

    I have a love/hate relationship with editing. Usually I start with the images that I feel are the most powerful then work from there.

    You wrote:

    “One of my favorite images is of the hands pointing to photos pinned on the wall with the places where the tribal people from Burma now live – scattered around it seems. I would love that as a starting point, and to trace the story backwards… just a thought…”

    If you read the cut line you will find that this photo is of a display in the Thai Mai La Oon encouraging immigration to the U.S. The photos in the display depict Karen families who have already made the move.

    Herve:

    You wrote: “Very few people give a fuck about the plight of people in Burma, and now even less, that president O. wants to try a more conciliatory approach towards the Junta…

    There is new school of thought regarding whether sanctions even work. In the case the case of Burma it seems like the sanctions have hurt the people more than the Burmese generals who run the country with an iron fist. China is one of Burma’s strongest trading partners without their participation U.S. sanctions may be ineffective. See links:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2009/02/05/opinion/05iht-edkristof.1.19959907.html

    http://globalpolicy.org/component/content/article/202-sanctions/41731.html

    http://www.bnionline.net/news/mizzima/7192-aung-san-suu-kyi-discusses-sanctions-with-diplomats.html

    You wrote:

    “I wish there had been a few more that were attempting a more psychological approach of what it is they might feel (and yet, having us ask questions, not throw answers), what they find themselves into. especially as concerns the grand move to another country….”

    I agree and I am still working on this. Many of the Karen do not publically display their emotions. For example when a family leaves a refugee camp for resettlement to a western country their relatives and relatives gather to say their goodbyes. Despite the fact that many of the relatives know that they are saying goodbye for the last time and may never see them again its extremely rare for anyone to shed a tear. I think keeping their emotions under control and under the surface may be a coping strategy for dealing with the hardships that they have experienced in their lives. Maybe it’s cultural? I’m still trying to understand….

    JKaranka:

    Thanks! In Jan. it will be two-years since I started this essay and I feel like I am just scratching the surface. I will continue and hopefully it will get better.

    Frostfrog

    You wrote: “As for the theme, the feeling of hardship expressed in the words did not come through in the pictures, but, since the photographer came upon his subjects after the worst hardships were behind them, this is not a bad thing. In this case, I think more narration would be a good thing, so that we could grasp what happened in the lives of these people who we see in relative benign situation.”

    Some of the locations that I shot the people were not over their hardships but they did find refuge from the worst of it. For my next trip I will focus more of the million or so people who are internally displaced in their own country.

    Brian Frank:

    Thanks I will!

    Peter Grant:

    Thanks your words inspire me to push forward.

    Bob Black:

    Toronto is an amazing diverse city. That’s what I love most about it. But Hamilton (where some of my Karen friends moved to) is also becoming quite diverse, much to my surprise. I agree with your comments regarding that pictures be the be-all-to-end-all of a particular story. And this is works in progress so I hope to fill in many of the blanks as time progresses.

  • Mark W,

    I shoot in RAW with a D200. When the situation called for I shot at 1600 ISO which did lead to noise in some of the images. Personally I find some of the newer digital cameras too clean. But that said I can’t wait to get my hands on a D3 or D700 so I can work in lower light.

  • thanks for detais brennan.

  • Hey Brennan,
    Great work on the replies, looks like you took something constructive from each comment. This site does at times become a bit of a pissing contest. Anyway I’m also based in Toronto, looking to connect with other documentary photographers. Drop me a line, we’ll grab coffee or a beer and talk pics. sacco@rogers.com 416-561-9444

  • Salvatore,

    Sounds good. Lets have a beer. I find all group critique are like that but they are very helpful.

  • Thomas Bregulla:

    I think you asked the most important question when you wrote: “it leaves a question open to me – who was not able to resettle to Canada, what happened to those?”.

    When I was staying at Ma La Oon and Mae Ra Ma Luang refugee camps I kept hearing people talk about Canada. At first I thought the obvious that they were mentioning it because I was there. But later I realized that it was because so many people have resettled from those two camps to Canada. They were the ones who stayed behind when the others left. Even though they lacked freedom in the refugees camps they didn’t want to leave. Some felt that they were too old to make the journey but others stayed because they hope that one day there will peace in Burma and they can return to their homeland.
    In the last year the situation has got much worse. The dictatorship extended Aung San Suu Kyi’s detention for 18 months because they know that she probably would win the upcoming national elections. She has been under detention for almost 14 out of the past 20 years after she won 1990 election.
    They are trying to force ethnic minority armies to become border forces before the national elections. Over three thousand Karen have fled to Thailand, as many as 30,000 Kokang refugees have fled to Yunnan province in neighboring China and up to 10, 000 Shan were relocated by the SPDC. They also destroyed hundreds of Shan homes by burning them to the ground. Later they ordered the villagers to rebuild their own homes.

  • Brennan

    Sorry to break the one comment rule, but since you asked,,
    I suspect the “slick” refers to the beautiful tonal quality and very clean composition of some of the images. Perhaps some people have an expectation that black and white docu stuff should look gritty and less polished. I’ve heard almost the same criticism before about very clean work.
    My reference to images that are a bit wanting are mostly directed at 6 and 12 which suffer from pretty ugly noise and highlight clipping. Even though you may be attatched to the images and the message, it is a jarring note that really disturbs the flow. I understand why you wanted to include 6 since it is echoed later in the Toronto kitchen, it is just a shame that it falls down technically. I do like the image and would be happy to have a bash at it if you like.

    Again, congrats. Let me know if you’re ever here in BC, red wine or beer, your choice.

  • Gordon:

    Thank you so much for your reasoned response to Brennan regarding quality.

    Brennan:

    If one does not like the immaculate conception look of a fine digital camera there are sophisticated ways to create a sense of depth or film-like textural quality. Disdain of a clean digital look is no excuse for poor technical quality. I have a D200 and have shot a great deal of ballet in low light with that camera and it can be murder. But with good fast glass and good post processing skills including discreet use of noise management software, results are very professional. Clearly not what a full sensor digital camera can achieve but damned good. Raw and gritty doesn’t mean that anything goes (unless you’re doing conceptual art photography and even there, you’d better pull it off REALLY well). The lack of quality can distract strongly from the power of your photographs. That’s what several of us are trying to say. Great photography, not such great attention to quality.

    I would be sorry for breaking the one-post rule but in most cases second comments are not seen in the dialogue section.

    Maybe there should be a two-post rule instead (?)
    Kathleen

  • Brennan, I did not talk about sanctions at all. Anyway, nothing has worked, be it sanctions or doing business, a little, a lot or not at all. I explained why. Burma is simply not worth the trouble, and its direct neighbours, its ASEAN partners are not great proponents of Human Rights, and do not have special stakes to help the burmese people.

  • Brennan – heck of a good job on responding to the comments. All good wishes for this excellent project.

  • Excellent photo documentary of a subject that is becoming all too common in today’s world — displaced persons in refugee camps and hopefully finding new homes in countries that will welcome them. Brennan, you have showed us the story of why they had to leave Burma, what they endured during their time as refugees, and now their determination to create a sense of home in new environs, in this case Canada. In the 1990s I was privileged to facilitate art therapy sessions with individuals and families from around the world at a refugee shelter in Detroit. All of our guests were attempting to go to Canada because of its more open immigration policies. Brennan, your photos remind me of the people and stories I heard back then.

    Photographically this essay is superb. You have a fine eye and a naturalness to your work. I encourage you to continue with this project, going ever more deeply into it. Perhaps you can personalize it by focusing on one family and following them from Burma to wherever they end up settling. You’ve done that to some degree in this edit, but I’d love to see more. And then show us how their lives develop over time.

    Congratulations on being published on Burn…

    Patricia

  • The pics of Burma/Thailand were good but I’ve seen a few of KNLA soldiers, AK47s in the mist and things. It was the shots of the folks entering and taking on a new life in Canada that I loved. I worked on the Thai/Burma border for a while, and with some Karen families I know moving to Australia soon these pics poked me in the chest.
    Ignore those who wank on about technical this and that, tugging shrewdly on their pipe…they’re like lame-ass musicians wittering on about seeing ’59 Strats on ebay, these strings/those strings, types of picks… Like everywhere on the innernet, forums bulge with pride, self-promotion and the waving of tiny fists. So snap on, they’re fine pics.

  • Patricia – Thanks for your comment. I had a look at your work and I was very impressed to say the least.

    Tim – It’s reassuring to have someone comment who has spent time on the Thai/Burma border. It makes me feel like I am on the right track. How are the Karen doing in Australia?

    I don’t get too hung on technical things but I have found the noise comments very useful. Actually everything that was written was helpful even if I don’t agree. Fortunately I learned years ago how to take critiques and make them work to improve my photography. But I do hope that when people comment on a photographer’s work they take some time to think about what they are saying before their fingers start flying. I’m not saying that anyone did that with my essay but I have seen it happen on other essays.

    If anyone lives in Europe there is a cool event this coming Saturday (Dec. 12) in Brussels called ‘We are Burma’.

    Now more than ever the people of Burma are in desperate need of our support.

    http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=166388414912&ref=ts

  • Hi Brennan – I wish I had more time to sit with your piece, but I do not…so briefly, well done on the access and the breadth of your storytelling, and on the obvious ease created in your connections. You seem to have a few different voices in telling this story…I love the classicism in 8 and 9, the emotion in 13 and the personal investment in 19 – for me it would have held together more strongly if the whole essay were coming from one ‘place’ but still you have communicated what others have not…congrats.

  • hi brennan,
    from start to finish, i loved it all. my favorites were: 3, 5, 9…19. i was particularly drawn to the ones with children, their innocence contrasting so greatly with the violence they see daily.

    personally, i like larger sets – i feel they are more successful at encapsulating the environment that you’re trying to bring visibility to. yes, a great photo can tell a whole story, but hey, when you have a whole set of great photos, you can tell a saga. just my humble opinion.

    i don’t understand it when critics criticize a photo for being too technically perfect?? it’s like they’re hating on someone for being well at their craft.

    congratulations on getting published on burn!

  • Hi, Brennan. I know this comment is late in the game, but I just (happily) discovered burn magazine. I really appreciated your essay and found it quite moving and pointed. I really don’t agree at all with the criticism about the work being either too slick or unclear. Frankly, I think a lot of people get too bogged down in the details of how to tell a story sometimes that they often lose sight of the simple, direct humanity of a collection of images, all of which connect on the inside, if not fully on the surface or in detail. What I appreciate most about photography and photojournalism in what I experience as their purest forms is the ability to capture a slice of experience and/or state of being. Your images do this quite well. Whatever structure our minds want to weave together from the aggregate experience of the whole photo-essay represents our own subjectivity, the pleasure and uniqueness of which is something I also think educated viewers don’t often enough give themselves enough room for. Too often we define knowledge in purely objective terms, even when we’re talking about creativity and art! I find that sad. If I want the objective facts about a subject, I have brain and energy enough to find them out in addition to the pleasure of experiencing great images drawn from real life.

    Also, bravo on the subject itself. I have visited the Shan State this last summer, and I have a very slight impression of the hard life there. I hope to return this coming year as well to learn more.

  • I happened upon this beautiful gallery, I
    first saw the baby and the other really
    significant, the 19 is really extraordinary
    Compliments

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