Between 1997 & 1998 I lived in South East Asia, spending most of my time living in the jungle/border area between Thailand and Burma with the All Burma Students’ Democratic Front (ABSDF). I took hundreds, if not a few thousand photos all on 35mm film. I was a young female photographer living with a “guerrilla army”, extremely naive about global politics (I tried the internet to research Burma before going, it was pretty empty back then!) and on a self-funded trip with no press connections or the faintest idea of how to make any.
I returned to Canada in 1998, exhibited some of the images with Amnesty International at The University of Toronto, won a Young People’s Press writing contest about my trip that was published in Young Street (a syndicated section in the The Toronto Star) and then as time passed a few of the images became pieces in my portfolio and the rest part of the archive.
In 2006 I created these faux catalogue tear sheets for: Abominations, an exhibition curated by Ron John George Nelson at the VMAC Gallery. When I took these images of ABSDF soldiers in the frontlines, the boys and men in the photographs composed themselves as serious soldiers, the men of Burma’s future. They are some of my favourite photographs of my time with the ABSDF. When I took these photos I struggled with the idea that I was exploiting The ABSDF, their struggle and their existence for my own personal gain. Isn’t that what photographers do? The darker the image, the more suffering I could capture, the more important the image – right? I took them anyways. I’m glad i did.
These tearsheets were never and are not intended to mock the struggle of the ABSDF. The texts are a lampoon of the fashions of war, the end product an abomination.
This is the text that accompanied the work in 2006.
The All Burma Students’ Democratic Front, (ABSDF) is a Burmese Students organization formed in 1988 with Burmese students who fled the country following the 1988 nationwide pro-democracy uprising after thousands of their unarmed comrades and friends were gunned down by Burmese soldiers while peacefully demonstrating on the streets. After the bloody military coup on 18 September 1988, the army started to crackdown on the demonstrators by arresting and torturing them.
Tens of thousands of students, high school pupils and even monks fled into the jungles situated near the neighbouring countries such as Thailand, China and India. On 1 November 1988, with the help of the Karen National Union (KNU), student leaders were able to form an armed group at one of the KNU’s Head Quarters Kawmoora (Wankha), situated on the Thai-Burma border. Their main purpose was to fight the ruling military junta alongside other armed ethnic groups for the emergence of democracy and freedom in Burma.
Today, the ABSDF focus is on the dissemination of information and the delivery of food and medical aid to Burma’s displaced populations in the border regions and the hope for democracy and human rights in Burma.
The photos satirized in this series were taken between 1997 & 1998.