Behind the Lens: Finding Peace in a Tightly Controlled Country, by Justin Mott

Behind the Lens: Finding Peace in a Tightly Controlled Country, by Justin Mott

Each week we’ll feature one photographer from the PhotoShelter community, and share his or her story behind the shots that caught our eye.

  • Photographer: Justin Mott of Mott Visuals
  • Specialty: Editorial
  • Current Location: Hanoi, Vietnam
  • Clients: The New York Times, Newsweek, TIME  
  • PhotoShelter Website: justinmott.photoshelter.com
The Shots:

Photo by Justin Mott

Photo by Justin Mott

Photo by Justin Mott

The Story:

In March of 2011, Justin Mott was on assignment for The New York Times documenting the temples and pagodas of Bagan, Myanmar when he got these shots. Mott, who’s been a freelance photographer based in Vietnam since 2006, has a special place in his heart for Southeast Asia – though he says it’s not much of a hotbed for photojournalists.

During Mott’s visit to Bagan, he produced this series “Myanmar: On the Surface”, and several of the images shown above made us pause and want to get the back-story. “The military junta has ruled Myanmar since 1962,” Mott told us. “Any challenges to the junta are quickly thwarted with a heavy hand. Information coming and going is monitored closely, and journalists cautiously sneak in and out. But many are blacklisted after reporting about the political situation.”

Although Mott says that his story on Myanmar wasn’t a sensitive one, “you still never know if your images will be taken or you will be censored.” He used his PhotoShelter account to upload his selection of images “just in case something happened on my way out of the country.”

When he reflects on his experiences in Myanmar, Mott says, “Wherever you go you will rarely have a smile un-returned, and so it’s easy to have a look around and feel that everything is just fine and dandy. It’s easy to forget the 2007 Saffron Rebellion [a series of anti-government, nonviolent protests primarily led by Buddhist monks]. It’s easy to forget that the country’s beloved Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi was under house arrest for the better part of the past two decades before her release in November of 2011.”

The first image listed was recently recognized by American Photography 28, one of the most prestigious annual awards given to photographers. See all the winners here.

What caught our eye:

Mott’s images from “Myanmar: On the Surface” depict an unseen juxtaposition between the monk’s peaceful serenity and the stern, unjust reality of the Myanmar government – something that can only be known to those familiar with the nation’s history. His images also have a dream-like aesthetic, with either calming tone, or a surreal graphic-like quality. Look through more of the series on the New York Times Travel section here.

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