Photo Friends Across Borders

Long Ly, right, and XXX XXXX take a break from shooting to talk.

Ly Hoang Long, right, and Nyaung U Than Htay take a break to talk at a monastery in Mandalay.





MANDALAY, Myanmar — When I first began working on my Vietnam 40 Years Later project in 2006, I met a Vietnamese photographer named Ly Hoang Long. I had no idea that Long would not only become a good friend but also would help make my book project a success.

Long lives in DaLat with his wife and two sons. I was visiting DaLat, located in the mountains northeast of Ho Chi Minh City, on a photo shooting trip and had come across Long’s website and really liked his work. I emailed him and more or less invited myself to visit his studio.

I was warmly welcomed. And Long took the day off to show me around DaLat and go photo shooting with me. He subsequently agreed to be my photo guide and we have traveled throughout Vietnam together, from the far reaches of the Vietnam-China border to the southern tip of the Mekong Delta. It was Long who was with me in 2008 and rescued me when I fell off a mountainside rice paddy and blew-out my left knee.

Long is somewhat modest about his standing in Vietnamese photo circles. But I will tell you he is one of the most-respected photographers in the country. He has built a successful stock photography business, is the recipient of many awards and is frequently asked to organize and judge national photo competitions. I also have learned a lot by working with Long. In the beginning, I saw Vietnam mainly as a landscape subject. But watching Long work inspired me to expand my horizons and start shooting images of people in both the countryside and the urban areas. And that in turn helped me shape my Vietnam portfolio into a book project.

And so, a couple of months ago, when Long invited me to join him on a photo tour of Myanmar I did not have to think about it twice. For 10 days I have traveled with Long and four other Vietnamese photographers on one of the most successful photo trips I have made.

One of the highlights was meeting Myanmar photographer Nyaung U Than Htay, who enjoys a status in his country similar to Long. Htay accompanied us during some photo shooting stops in Mandalay. During one stop I captured the accompanying image of Long and Htay talking at a monastery. The smiles tell me they enjoy one another and will both benefit from their new and growing friendship.

It’s a good example of the cultural and human growth that takes place when formerly restrictive governments open their borders and extend freedoms to their people. I think good and creative things are going to happen as a result of Long’s and Htay’s friendship.

I also had a chance to talk with Htay during a coffee break. I asked him how long he had been a photographer and what had inspired him to pick-up a camera.

He explained that his father had been an artist and photographer. After having difficulty making a living in a small town, his father and mother moved to the larger city of Yangon. And then in 1949, his mother became pregnant with Htay.

“There was a civil war on then and that meant I would probably be born at home,” he said. “My father set up everything for the delivery in the darkroom. And when it came time, I was born in the darkroom. And that is where it started.”

Additional resources:

Ly Hoang Long’s website


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