In 2013, photographer and archivist Lukas Birk launched the Myanmar Photo Archive (MPA) to create a comprehensive archive of Burmese photographers working between 1890 and 1995. Featuring some 10,000 photographs, this is an incredible look inside the Southeast Asian nation that lies nestled between India, Bangladesh, Thailand, Laos, and China, and has been subject to invasions for the better part of the past millennia.
Birk explored Myanmar’s mistery in a book which includes fascinating chapters on youth culture between 1970 and 1990. “We have this idea that the country was closed off from the world and to some extent it was – but certain things always come through,” Austrian artist reveals.
“I found a lot of private photography and I really wanted a centralised body of work from a photo studio where the work that was created is very specific to the city where it was made”. Many ispirations came from the Bellay Photo Studio, which Burmese photographer Har Si Yone opened in 1963. An oasis where young men and women were free to express their ideal selves during a period of dictatorial power, food shortages, and government corruption
“His son Tun Tun Lay, who runs the photo studio under the same name today, kept thousands of negative kept in plastic bags,” Birk says. “He was very keen on the idea that I would preserve them and work with them, so I scanned about 4,000 negatives.”
The discovery was an incredible find and has changes the way we think of Myanmar. “There is always a need for expressing, for being creative, and for making something more than what you have in front of you”.