Chan Chao

"Chan Chao's family left Burma for the United States when he was 12 years old. Eighteen years later Chao returned to Burma with the intention of rediscovering and reconnecting with the culture and people he had left years before. Twice denied a visa by the Burmese government, Chao eventually made his way to the Thai-Burmese border where students had established several camps to launch guerrilla attacks against the military regime that controlled Burma with the goal of restoring democracy to the country. With the knowledge that Burma's military junta is one of the world's worst human rights violators, Chao's portraits are remarkable for the sense of calm and tenderness that he draws out of each of his subjects. Each portrait is made from an intimate distance, generously placing each subject in the center of the frame surrounded by the soft focus of the lush jungle beyond. In many of his portraits the subjects hold simple objects: a sickle, a saw, a large piece of fruit, a live chicken. These simple objects provide an elegant solution to the problem of portraiture where individuals are often unsure of what to do with their hands, and in that uncertainty convey stiff and formal poses. But the objects are also disarming because they signal the activities of a simple agrarian life, not one of armed resistance. This contradiction plays heavily into the power that each image conveys, because each person that Chao photographs displays a remarkable range of honesty and emotion that seems to long for a return to the simple pleasures of family, work, and relaxation --not another night of firing rockets or setting land mines."

Photograph by Chan Chao