The Nation Formerly Known as Burma
by Maria Luci
Kelly Fajack has traveled the world, photographing unique people, places and cultures through his global adventures. Yet, there was one destination that eluded him for years, the isolated Southeast Asian nation of Myanmar. Not having been able to visit Myanmar nagged at Kelly for nearly 12 years. But getting access isn’t exactly easy, as Myanmar is the second most isolated nation in the world. There’s mystery surrounding the country, including what name it should go by. The military junta’s decision to rename the nation Myanmar hasn’t exactly been welcomed by everyone—and leaves some debating its “true” appellation. However, President Barack Obama’s November visit to the country, meant to “extend the hand of friendship”, was not only historic, but also put the wheels of change into motion. The trip helped open the door for Kelly’s recent journey to the nation formerly known as Burma.
Twelve years ago, Kelly spent months traveling throughout Asia. Through his travels, he was continually told over and over, “Go to Burma, go to Burma!” The fact that he never got there continued to haunt him, until finally this year, he made the leap. Or the many leaps, as it was, since “you can’t just fly there and get a visa at the airport.” He explains,
If you don’t have the month it takes to send in your passport to the Myanmar Embassy in DC, you need to get a visa in Bangkok, and even there you just can’t pay for it and get your visa. You have to drop off your passport and pick it up at a later date. It’s a small glimpse of how the government in not crazy about tourists coming into their country.
Once on Burmese soil, Kelly was able to shoot photos all day, sometimes for ten hours straight, with no one ever hassling him. It was “nothing but smiling faces.” The trip lasted two and half weeks, and he took advantage of every moment—photographing the people, culture, sculptures and temples. Myanmar was full of both “fascinating and visually spectacular” moments that Kelly was excited to capture. He also found himself attracted to the lack of chains like McDonald’s, Starbucks and brands like Coca-cola. “I don’t find many places ‘exotic’ anymore,” Kelly says, “so I love going to countries that aren’t littered with influences of the western world.”
Kelly’s explorations took him through Yangon, Pyay, Bagan and Mandalay, where he found that President Obama’s visit had quite an impact on the Burmese people,
You can definitely proudly state you’re an American. I wish I would have been there before his visit, so I could compare the difference, but the people absolutely love him. In short, they feel that he cares about them, and that Americans care about them. A few of them said, “not Burma, now Obama.”
Unfortunately, Kelly had to cut his trip short after booking an assignment in Los Angeles. Back in the States, he’s begun planning a gallery show to share his images of the country, and will be writing a few travel stories to go along with them. Kelly’s already planning another trip to Myanmar, this time upriver, “way up river.”
View more of Kelly’s work at kellyfajack.com.