Htein Win’s historic photos of 8888 uprising

Htein Win’s historic photos of 8888 uprising

During the 8888 uprising, photographers took considerable risks to document the protests – protests staged by people from all walks of life, across the country. 

Some photographers even destroyed their film after the uprising to avoid a risk of being caught, arrested or detained. There were a few who kept their film negatives, however. One such photographer was Htein Win.

Last month Htein Win published a photography book featuring over 300 pictures that capture the democracy movements, the many thousands of protesters, students and politicians. The protests started on August 8, lasting just over a month before ending on September 18.

Htein Win’s father loved being photographed. He gave his son 120 camera rolls, and taught him how to adjust the aperture and shutter speeds. By the age of 10 Htein Win took a few dozen pictures of his father then became hooked on photography.

At the age of 11, his father sent him to a boarding school in Darjeeling, India to study English. His father gave him a camera worth at K100. His passion grew with his travels overseas, giving him plenty of material to capture with this new camera.

In 1962 when U Ne Win seized power in a military coup, he returned Yangon and continued his studies at the Basic Education High School (1) in Lanmadaw. He passed the matriculation exam with high marks and, following his father’s wishes, studied at the University of Medicine.

“I enrolled at the University of Medicine in 1966. The subject was of no interest to me at all. But my father told me that I could do whatever I wanted if I finished the course,” Htein Win said.

Fortunately, he had met three veteran photographers who later helped him develop his photographic passions. One worked in the surgery ward, while the other in the anatomy department.

“They taught me photography with their own cameras. The third master was U Tin Oo from the Translation and Literature department. In December 1974, I had the chance to capture U Thant’s funeral secretly from the university campus. I learnt a lot during my eight years of study, but most of my time was spent learning photography,” he said.

Absence from the classroom ended up affected his academic success. He could not graduate in medicine, even after eight years of study. Instead, he got a job as a photographer in the Rangoon Arts and Science University (now the University of Yangon) with the help of his photography teachers.

In 1974, protests broke out in Yangon, triggered by the death of U Thant – former Secretary-General of the United Nations. He photographed students carrying U Thant’s casket from Kyitekasan to the University of Yangon, and the burial site in front of the Student Union building (now demolished).

About 40 years after the event he published a book featuring photos of the protests. Along with 25 essays written by students who took part in the crisis, the book features 80 pictures taken across the city. The book is now in its fifth edition.

“The book about U Thant’s crisis was my first milestone, and the 8888 uprising book was my second,” he said.

After the U Thant crisis, he established a publishing house and continued photographing between 1975 and 1988.

When the 8888 uprising broke out, he took to the streets and instinctively started taking shots of what was happening around him. For some of the pictures he even borrowed a camera from an editor, U Thway Thit.

“A photograph is the best witness. The younger generation who had not experienced the protests can learn from these photographs. Writing is also a good way to capture the past, but writing is more complete with photographs. The photos are both evidence and my witnesses to what happened,” he said.

During the 8888 uprising, he captured protest marches staged by people from all walks of life such as lawyers, students, housewives, artists, writers and nurses. Tens of thousands of people gathered at Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech at the west bank of Shwedagon Pagoda. At that time, he could not buy many rolls of film, and so budgeted two rolls to document the whole speech.

After the uprising, he gave his film rolls to his friends to help look after them. In December, 1988, he was detained for four months. After his release, he went to his friends to take his film rolls, only to find that some burned the negatives and others threw them into the drain in fear of being arrested.

“Luckily half of the collection survived. I captured a lot, including pictures of military greeting citizens with handshakes in Mahabandoola Park after the curfew had been lifted,” he said.

In 2007, the saffron revolution occurred in Myanmar. U Htein Win captured the historic marches again. He has a plan to publish his pictures with essays written by monks involved in the marches.

“People’s enthusiasm had been seen since the U Thant crisis, and the public will always protest if there is some injustice,” he said.

From: Myanmar Times