I visited Yangon for the first time last May. I was travelling alone and had no plans except to walk around, take the circle train, and test my brand new Fujifilm X-T20 camera.
I had read about U Htwe, a former sailor who founded a marionette troupe to preserve Myanmar’s puppetry tradition. On a whim, I wrote him an email asking to learn about why he decided to create a puppetry theatre and this performing art.
I wanted to pitch the story to a magazine, something that I had never done before. Whilst I have always worked with journalists, the closest I came to being one was when I was an unpaid intern at a magazine and when I was a guest columnist for a newspaper where I mused about being single.
I am grateful to U Htwe for taking the time to share with me his story and his knowledge of Myanmar marionette. After several hours at the puppet-makers’ home and his family apartment which serves as a makeshift theatre, I left Yangon with many photos and copious notes.
I successfully pitched U Htwe’s story to DestinAsian magazine, a leading travel publication in the region. However I wanted to illustrate the story using the photos I took. Instead of a photo essay, I decided to make a slideshow incorporating music from the performance.
Here was where things got tricky.
Featuring percussion and wind instruments, the music is cacophonous and a little hard on my ears. There is little rhythm and I struggled to find the right spots for the photo transitions. Fortunately, AB broke down the seven minutes of clanging and singing into clear blocks that I then manipulated to fit my storyboard.
With no knowledge of iMovie, I fiddled for days to align the images with the music and to smoothen the transitions. On hindsight, it probably would have saved me some time if I had watched some tutorials online. Instead, I dived right in and figured things out as I went along.
Here is the result:
I am quite pleased with how the slideshow turned out considering that I had not planned for it in the first place. I had to crop portrait shots to fit the aspect ratio in iMovie. Fortunately I had enough content to weave together a coherent storyline covering my visit to the puppet-makers’ home, the journey to U Htwe’s family home, and the performance in the living room.
I was also using a new camera and did not react as swiftly as I could have. Plus I had no tripod, and had to hold my breath when photographing the performance to minimise camera shake!
This has been an interesting exercise to use my photos to tell a story in a different way from my usual method. I hope to create photography slideshows with ambient sounds recorded with my new Tascam DR-40 in the future. I just need to figure out the full functionalities of this digital recorder 😉
5 replies on “Storytelling: Myanmar puppetry, Yangon”
I think you did a really great job, although it was your first time using the new camera 🙂 Through the slideshows and the article on DestinAsian, you successfully told the story of a family of artists, who are trying their best to keep a cultural treasure alive. They did it not only for them but for the future generations. Hope that they get more attention/support from the government. It would be a shame if this kind of art vanishes.
Thanks Len! I’m always inspired when I meet people like U Htwe who dare to step out of their comfort zone and pursue their passion. In spite of past struggles with keeping Htwe Oo Puppet afloat, U Htwe persisted in his mission with the support of his wife and children (who also participate in the nightly performances). U Htwe is working to spread awareness of Myanmar puppetry through education programmes in the country as well as tourism and cultural performances abroad.
This is extraordinary, Angelina! Your story-telling is top-notch and your photos are just gorgeous. And although I can see how you struggled with the music, you’ve incorporated it masterfully into your finished multimedia project. Thank you so much for sharing this …
Thank you, and I’m glad you enjoyed it! Strangely I rather enjoy the music now that I’ve listened to it for so many hours 😉