Burma is one of the few countries in Asia that has preserved its deep religious and historical roots. Today, the country has just started opening up for foreign visitors, and we are pleased to offer a workshop to this alluring land led by award-winning photographer Steve McCurry. Drift down the Irrawaddy to capture life along the river, and admire the thousand-year-old temples and pagodas that dot this magnificent country. Dig into the myriad dishes of the local cuisine, from a hearty bowl of mohinga noodles for breakfast to the fermented tea-leaf mixture that’s a popular finish to a Burmese meal. Swap cocktails and canapés for snacks and tea sweetened with condensed milk at tea houses where you can chat with locals.
Two of the Myanmar/Burma photography tour workshop’s highlights will be the traditional water festival, Thingyan, which is celebrated across Burma in mid April and which is leading up to the country’s New Year’s celebration. We will celebrate the water festival in Mandalay and the surrounding countryside; for the latter we will travel to the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Bagan.
Steve is recognized universally as one of today’s finest image-makers, and has won many of photography’s top awards. Best known for his evocative color photography, Steve, in the finest documentary tradition, captures the essence of human struggle and joy. Steve’s work has been featured in every major magazine in the world. McCurry is driven by an innate curiosity and sense of wonder about the world and everyone in it. He has an uncanny ability to cross boundaries of language and culture to capture stories of human experience. “Most of my images are grounded in people. I look for the unguarded moment, the essential soul peeking out, experience etched on a person’s face. I try to convey what it is like to be that person, a person caught in a broader landscape, that you could call the human condition.”
Upon arrival, you will be picked up at Mandalay airport by our Better Moments guide who will then take you to our hotel. During the day, you can relax and get adjusted to the local time and climate.
For those who have arrived one or a few days earlier, we offer a city tour of Mandalay from 10am to 4pm. The city tour is a great way to explore Mandalay and get ready for the upcoming workshop with Steve McCurry.
In the evening, we will all meet in the hotel lobby for the official start of the workshop. After a traditional Burmese dinner, we would like to invite you to join us for an introduction to the workshop with Steve McCurry presenting his magnificent work from past travels to Burma. The lecture will also include an explanation on how to capture great portraits and how to approach people along the way.
For sunrise, we will visit the iconic U Bein’s Bridge, a 1.2 km long walkway across the Taungthaman Lake built in teak more than 150 years ago. The bridge is used daily by many monks and locals, and is one of the most photographed sights in Burma. You will have the possibility to take portraits of fishermen, workers, and locals living at the shores of the lake.
By now, the water festival, Thingyan, is starting. Traditionally, the festival involved the sprinkling of scented water, a practice that is still continued in rural areas. It is believed that the water will wash away one’s sins. While the smaller villages often hold up the tradition, people in major cities equip themselves with huge syringes, water pistols, and garden hoses. Additionally, water balloons and fire hoses may be involved. Make sure you have your camera ready and in a waterproof bag.
After breakfast at the hotel, we will explore the local fish market located on the river bank of the Irrawaddy. The fish market is a wonderful chaos of piles of fish, fishmongers kneeling on the floor, buyers inspecting the produce – all in all, a fantastic place for portrait photography. You will work in groups of a maximum of four people to give everyone the chance to be tutored by Steve.
Later that day, we will visit the day workers, who live in humble houses at the river, to take their portraits and to photograph them during their work.
After dinner, we will work on our images, and Steve will offer constructive feedback of your best shots. Moreover, Steve will present his most iconic and award-winning pictures.
Rise early to witness the morning face-washing ceremony of the Mahamuni Buddha, the most revered Buddha image in Mandalay. Admire the carvings of the Shwenandaw Monastery and see the 729 chiseled marble slabs of the Kuthodaw Pagoda.
For the remainder of the day, we will visit several of the city’s artisans and craftsmen who are, for instance, carving Buddha statues out of solid blocks of white marble. In Burma, there is a healthy demand of Buddha statues – whether for public temples or private use – and the artisan craftsmen create the statues by hand, a truly dusty and physically exhausting work.
By working in small groups, Steve will be able to tutor everyone individually to help you hone your skills for travel and portrait photography.
Dinner at the hotel, followed by a review of your images taken so far.
Set off on an all-day cruise on the Irrawaddy River, stopping first in Sagaing, where a myriad of pagodas gleam white and gold on the hillside. Take in the view from the Soon U Ponya Shin Pagoda, and observe daily life at a convent and a community school. Continue up river to Inwa and hop onto horse carts to visit Nan Myint Tower, Menu Ok-kyaung Monastery and the teak Bagaya Monastery.
Enjoy lunch on board as we sail to Mingun, home to a massive, unfinished pagoda. Watch the sunset over the river on our return to Mandalay.
After dinner, Steve will hold a presentation about the photographers that influenced and inspired him and his work the most.
Street photography. The program for the day is quite flexible. Steve will assist, guide and teach you how to approach people and locations, and there will be great opportunities to practice portrait and reportage photography in some of world’s most stunning locations. After dinner Steve will present his most iconic and award-winning pictures.
Fly to Heho and travel overland to Inle Lake, visiting Shweyanpyay Monastery and Nyaungshwe village along the way. Enjoy an afternoon on the lake, stopping at floating villages and pagodas on shore, and gliding past fishermen poling their skiffs with one leg.
Spend the day exploring the lake, from lush floating gardens to vibrant lakeside markets. At the Phaung Daw U Pagoda, see five Buddha images so smothered in gold leaf that they have lost all trace of their original forms. Take a Shan cooking class or watch artisans at work at a silk weaving workshop. After lunch in a float- ing house, wander among hun- dreds of Shan-style stupas in Inn Dein, and visit Ngaphechaung Monastery, perched over the water on stilts and teak planks.
We will enjoy the beauty of the hazy blue Shan plateau and the hilly region. We will also visit the Pindaya Cave houses, see 8,094 Buddha images, visit an umbrella workshop made of pulp. Later in the day we proceed to Inle and visit Shweyanpye Monastery, a typical Shan Monastery made of wood, which is about 500 years old, and its 700-year-old pagoda. We will see the small Buddha images in niches painted tradition- ally by Shan people. Farewell dinner and a thorough review of some of your best workshop photos led by Steve.
After breakfast, transfer to the airport for your onward flight.
“What I will definitely remember from that workshop is the opportunity to learn a lot about how to get people look their best, whether this is a matter of light, whether this is a matter of the situation we put them in. That is something I always enjoyed doing, but now I am sure I understand much better how to do it.
Not only travelling to Burma, but on the leadership of Steve McCurry. Getting first of all to work together with the master, the landscape, the situation here, the people we met…. That’s just amazing!
If I had three words to describe this workshop to summarize it, that would be: learning, practising, and getting a lot of feedback to improve on what I love doing”.
Bernard Menettrier de Jollin participated in the Burma workshop, led by Steve McCurry.
Thanks for choosing Better Moments for your workshop.
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All international flights arrive at Mandalay airport. The most common route to Mandalay airport is via Bangkok.
All visitors are required to have a passport valid for at least six months beyond the intended stay, and all visitors will need a visa. The visa application process is handled by the Embassy of the Union of Myanmar, and can be done in person, by representative, by post or online (https://evisa.moip.gov.mm/). It takes 5-10 working days to get the tourist visa application processed.
The southwest monsoon starts around the end of May, bringing frequent rain until October, peaking from July to September. March to May brings intense heat. At this time, the daily temperatures in Yangon often reach 40ºC, while areas around Bagan and Mandalay go a few degrees higher.
Burmese is the official language of Burma, and the primary language of instruction. English is the secondary language taught.
The Burmese monetary unit is the Kyat (K).