This project showcases images from Japan and Myanmar that I took over the course of four weeks between January and February 2017.
Both countries are unique due to their ancient, rich and diverse cultures. These cultures, however, are currently undergoing rapid transformations. While people seem to adapt quickly to the changing circumstances that surround them, their traditional ways of living and sense of self are being challenged. Most of these transitions happen quietly within people. The project theme is therefore called "In Transition, Silently."
The women in the image “Passing by” that I took in Myanmar exemplify this very directly. They seem concerned with their inner thoughts although being directly in front of the camera. Their traditional Burmese turban, the aung baung, displays their belonging to an ethnic group. Those groups are vanishing slowly while the country is transitioning into a new area of political openness since the landmark election of Aung San Suu Kyi's in 2015 after years of military dictatorship.
The people of Inle Lake in Myanmar are another good example. On the lake, a unique, centuries-old civilization has flourished. There are small villages along the banks with Buddhist temples, one-hut schools and bustling markets. Many houses rest on stilts above the waterline. There are floating vegetable farms. And the fishermen propel long, wooden skiffs by balancing at the back of the boat and wrapping their leg around a single oar as they push through the still waters with a unique motion that has become the symbol of the local Intha tribe. This unique technique is a true balancing act. A balancing act also is to keep the complex ecosystem of Inle Lake intact nowadays. A candidate for World Heritage Site status, the tourism boom that started in 2015, is eroding traditional lifestyles of the local tribes and adding to already serious water pollution from overuse of chemical fertilizers and pesticides by farmers. Yet, the tranquil waters of the highland lake and its inhabitants showcase a quiet serenity that many visitors describe as mystic.
Other images taken in the country showcase people as well that are silently practicing their traditional ways of living while being faced with modernity, such as the “Modern Monks” using smartphones while going to visit a Pagoda.
Japan over decades has protected itself from outside influences. Two and a half centuries of Tokugawa feudalism (1603–1867) contributed to the long isolation of the country from the stream of cultural diffusion. Feudal leaders enjoyed political peace and tranquillity during this dormancy of Japanese history. But tranquillity did not last forever. Over the past decades, change has became a vital force of Japanese economy and society. Although good in many ways, this tendency strongly impacts its culture. The salarymen and -women, for example, that spend crushingly long hours in the office to contribute to Japan's economic prosperity often visit traditional shrines in capital cities to reflect and practice their tradition. They do so silently and with the same efficiently that is required of them day in and day out at the office.
The theme of this project is of global relevance as most people nowadays are in transition. Many due to complex crises, such as climate change, pandemics, forced displacement and migration. Others due to political and economic changes. To me, the theme is also very personal. Growing up in the former East Germany, I witnessed first-hand the impact a sudden change in society can have on the day-to-day lives of people, their evolving dreams, hopes but also challenges. Overall, I am very dedicated to human rights and using photography in a meaningful way. A way that makes people think critical about social, ethical, or political concerns while they are still able to enjoy the beauty of them.
The picture series therefore ends with blossoming flowers photographed in Japan at the end of winter. It represents the theme of silent transition in a poetic way and leaves room for interpretation. Maybe, it makes people think of the transitions they are going through themselves.
Note: I started working on this project in 2015 with a photography project in Cuba. As I took the images in April of that year, I have not included them into this submission.