The Vanishing Portals of Myanmar

The Vanishing Portals of Myanmar by Julian Ray (Instagram | | website, click for larger view):

Nikon D850, 24-70mm f/2.8


Staring in utter dismay, the idea for this project came to me a few years ago early one dark monsooming morning when I returned to a location I had shot just a couple of days before.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

A couple of days before I was exploring the innards of an old colonial building in the old consular section of downtown Yangon. I had a couple of hours before I was to start a commercial shoot documenting some architectural details of the restoration of this historic building, a stoic holdout to a British colonial era slowly decaying under the rains, molds, and vines of life as it is in Myanmar (Burma).

I was looking forward to creating a better image of that door in better light but what I found instead was a new wall. The door was gone! Replaced with clean, new, and dull.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

Then a couple of weeks later while I was walking down a little alley in downtown Yangon another door that I had found was gone. Not demolished but just completely cleaned up and repainted. All the creative colours and deep textures replaced with some dull, characterless grey.

Nikon D5, 24-70mm f2/8

Gone was the story. The unique look and history of that home or business. Replaced by the bland sameness that is found in most big cities in SE Asia.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

The images of this post are part of a larger bodywork, a book hopefully, documenting the beauty that many doors in Myanmar (Burma) have to tell.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

Some of these doors are very old and some are relatively new. Some are for homes, temples, businesses, and some open into empty lots.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

Many are gone but some are still alive and functional.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f2/8

Some belong to wealthy influential people while others are used by the humble tea shop owner or a family.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f2/8

Though most of the doors in this post are from Yangon others are from all over Myanmar (Burma).

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

What all of these doors have in common, what attracted me to them, was their story. The story of what they have seen, what is behind, and the art that time, weather, and the person who’s door it is have collaborated to create.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f2/8

Mostly it is the colours and textures that seduced my eye. The way time and weather have conspired together to make these such an amazing study in what colour can be.

Nikon D4s, 24-70mm f2/8

I’ve always been drawn to the story told by details. Yes, the big dramatic images of some sunset or crowd are a story but for the most part, I feel that what people connect with most deeply are the little things of day to day life. The smile, the wrinkle in a face, the colour of an eye. These are the true connections between people.

Nikon D810, 24-70mm f2/8

So too these doors are a connection. A connection to a rich and complex past. An artful, capricious, sometimes humorous, and insightful look at time.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

In the rush to modernize, to discard all that is old many see these doors as dirty, rotten, maybe even ugly. But when looked at by themselves and taken out of context of the clutter of a busy street they are beautiful, graceful strong reminders of a rich diverse culture that is unique in the world.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

What is lost in that modernization is the treasure of individuality. These doors are the portals to the past that is being slowly lost.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

Some notes about the equipment used to craft the images of these doors.

All the doors in this post where shot on Nikon D4, D4s, D5, D810, or D850 bodies. The lenses were usually the Nikkor 24-70 and 70-200 though I do use the 14-24 as well as some PC-E on occasion.

Nikon D4, 24-70mm f2/8

Because I tend to shoot these doors very early in the day most where shot on a tripod.

Nikon D5, 24-70mm f2/8

I do use Profoto B2, A1, or Nikon Speed lights to fill particularly contrasty or dark doors. Almost always bounced off of whatever is behind me that does not cast a colour. When there is no option I will use a white reflector but the goal is to try an represent the door as close to how I saw it as possible.

Nikon D4, 70-200mm f2/8

Though all the doors in this post where crafted on the Nikon platform I also use Hasselblad D5H and D6H bodies but that is possibly for a Hasselblad Rumors post. 😀

Nikon D5, 24-70mm f2/8

Some thoughts about post-processing of these images.

Many people ask me if I’ve photoshopped these images. The answer is yes but not in the way many might think.

I use a variety of software, Adobe Photoshop among others, to do things like correct the lens-induced distortions, remove rain streaks, and sometimes to correct for a colour cast that a car, plastic tarp, or something else next to the door as induced. I have not “jacked” the colours nor enhanced the vibrancy as the whole point of this work is to show these doors as I remember seeing them.

I often craft these images early in the morning and even though the Nikon is the king of low light I am forced to occasionally use software to remove some of the noise high ISO can induce.

Also, the tight spaces sometimes encountered in back alleys, crowded streets, and other confined spaces can mean that I cannot completely get perfectly centered to the door. In those cases, I do use software to fix any perspective distortion but I don’t “fix” the actual geometry of a door. The not always perfectly straight nature of these doors is part of their charm and beauty.

I want to show the art of each door not what some software can do.

Nikon D810, 70-200mm f2/8

Having used many other camera platforms I can say with total conviction that I could not craft images like this if it was not for Nikons utter commitment to the heart of the image.

Thanks for checking out this post and I look forward to your comments.

Julian Ray

About the artist:

Currently based in Myanmar, Julian is a commercial photographer by day and a Zen street walking fine art photographer by life. He has lived and worked in many countries in central and South America, North Africa, Middle East, and South East Asia.

Through his work in photojournalism, documentary, humanitarian, INGOs, editorial as well as commercial industries he has always tried to share the detail and beauty of the day to day realities of life.

His deep passion for colour and fascination with subtlety in the detail is expressed in his uniquely frank and honest style of image creation.

Working in both medium and 35mm digital formats his current work focuses on the story and collaborative art that is told by some old doors of Myanmar.

If you are in Yangon from August 18th to the 31st. please stop by to see some of these as well as other doors in an exclusive solo exhibit at The Trish Gallery. One of Myanmar’s most prestigious galleries for fine art.

You can see some of his other work on his Instagram and feeds as well as his website.

If you have an interesting idea for a guest post, you can contact me here.

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