To bend or break

While studying post-colonial literature, I remember comparing different characters' response to oppression, hardship and poverty. Whereas some people manage to 'bend' and adjust others just 'break'.

The ’benders’ of the world are many and impressive, people who accept and adapt, no matter how horrible their situations might appear. However, there are also many broken people. Breaking when trying to fight back, or bend under heavy burdens and hardships. Some are simply crushed.

These photos are captured in Myanmar, a country that has experienced decades of suffering and tyranny in many different forms and they speak of the different ways that people can react.

Bent, broken or not – some people manage to ’break through’, or even to rise and ’break free’. I often wonder what sets these people apart from the rest. Like the trees that grow and climb on the old, naked walls in Yangon – they reach for the sun and seem to find their ways, no matter what.

This essay is based on my street photography. Images taken on various walks. I hope that they will speak to you, just as they have spoken to me, about human nature’s ability both to bend and to break, but also to bend loose and break free.

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Man carrying a heavy load at the wholesale market. His shoulder bag indicates that he belongs to the Karen minority group, an ethnic group that has been persecuted for decades in Myanmar. In the background there is a calendar with Aung San Sui Kyi, who many minority groups put their hopes in before the 2015 election. However, her popularity due to political decisions has significantly dropped with the minority groups since then.
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Trash collector – one of thousands in Yangon – pushing and sorting other people’s unwanted waste to make a living.
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U Kyaw Nyein is 94 years old. He has lost 4 out of 8 children. The oldest one was killed by a landmine in Shan state and had to be carried for seven miles before he was buried. His picture is framed on the wall. In spite of his hardships and losses, U Kyaw Nyein is not just alive – he is vibrant. ”I still have all my teeth, do you see?”, he laughs. ”It’s because of my second son. He takes care of me.” Do families and communities grow stronger in response to hardships?
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Myanmar’s history is full of violence, both in terms of rebellion and repression. This picture was taken during a local film production that I happened to walk past. Unfortunately, violence is something that too many Burmese people have witnessed in reality too.
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The journey continues. Yangon circular train. Although the strategic discrimination against the Rohingya people has been happening for many generation, the lastest wave of forced displacement in 2017 has been highlighted also in international media.
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A rugged and rocky beach in Rakhine, shaped by tireless tides, tsunamis and storms. Every evening this old fisherman went down to swim and watch the ocean. A daily ritual to cleanse body and soul.
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Maria is a 96-year-old Karen woman. She has seen it all, the Japanese and the Brits, cyclones and earthquakes, the uprisings and the generals. However, her happiness and gratefulness has survived it all.
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Doves rising towards the sky, fed by a family on the street. Many Buddhists feed the birds and the dogs on the street for better Karma, one of many ways to maintain hopes of a better life.
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Yangon tree. The resilience of both nature and people never cease to amaze.

Photo Essay by: Magdalena Vogt


Magdalena lives with her family in Myanmar. She has previously worked for a number of NGO:s in Thailand and Laos on access to education for minorities as a means to breaking structural violence and promote sustainable peace. She is currently working as an independent consultant under the auspices of her own business ”Unfiltered Communications”. Her focus is on writing, documenting, and producing material for a variety of actors and organizations in Myanmar and the region.

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