Portraits one year on / by Savannah Dodd


Last year, the Yangon Photo Festival coincided with Myanmar's historic presidential election. I photographed the streets on that day, and those images became my Election Day series. The series includes several portraits of people I met downtown.

I was impressed by the willingness of people to be photographed. Perhaps this is because Myanmar only recently opened to tourism and people are not yet fatigued by the onslaught of tourist cameras. But I worried that people would feel like I was taking their image and leaving them nothing in return.

So this year, as I packed my bags, I included a selection of prints from the portraits I had taken last year. With the immense help of a friend and translator, I was able to locate 11 of the 20 portraits I brought. Each time we located an image, we asked to photograph the individual with the print from the previous year and we gave him or her the print.

We were not always able to find the individuals pictured, but friends, family, and coworkers were happy to step in and accept the photograph on their behalf. I think people were happy with the images, and many were eager to direct us to the person in the next photograph.

Of course offering a photograph is a token gesture. But maybe the next time someone asks to take their photograph, they will remember this experience. Maybe this is a step toward a more reciprocal relationship. Maybe it is a step toward nothing in particular, but it feels good to give something back.