Global Now / Week 4

Portraits as Activism

Emma Pratte

Section: Cope
Global Now: Abstract
Headline: Aung San Suu Kyi’s World: Portraits of Burmese Dissidents and Activists
Date: 9/20/2012
Source: Time


Photographer James Mackay made a series of portraits of Burmese dissidents and democracy activists. In the photos, the subject is holding his or her hand, each having been written on. On their palms they have written names friends of their friends that were still imprisoned at the time the photo was taken. In holding their hand up, they are making a Buddhist gesture, abhaya mudra, that mean peace, projection and the dispelling of fear.

As a photographer, this is my design language. In the lecture, Keller talked about the ‘ethics or representation in technology’ and how the work that one makes is an attempt to change the way the viewer sees the world, not only that but to make the way the artists sees him or herself in the world. In this instance, the photographer, along with Time have altered the way the viewers see the world, or in this case, Burma and the conflicts occurring there. I love things like this because everything is on purpose, everything means something and is then a way of communication – where the photo was taken, what they were wearing. For instance, there is a photo of a young man standing shirtless outside a hut. His stern face looks as though he has aged prematurely and the shadows that the photographer left (or maybe even included after the fact) make him look sullen and bitter. This man was tortured so badly that he had to have part of his lung removed, the bandage is visible – he could have easily had a shirt on, they could have easily fixed the shadow in photoshop. But they did not, the photographer wanted us to view him in that way.

I am not sure of the intended audience of this work, whether it be Burma at large or the oppressors but I think it was a great, peaceful form of activism.


Global Issue: Burma/Awareness

Primary Design Lens: Photography

Secondary Design Lens: Communication Through Art


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