Behind Closed Doors: Archive Photography of 70s Burma

Behind Closed Doors: Archive Photography of 70s Burma

If you've caught a glimpse of our capsule collection with Emma Jane Palin, you'll notice a distinct nostalgic 70s throwback in the rattan curves, dark amber glass and wavy textile patterns. 

Deep into decades of social and economic decline, the 1970s in Burma was a time of severe oppression for the country. There were strict rules about what you could read, say, wear and do in public. But behind closed doors, there was a vibrant, secret world of expression and rebellion which belied the heavily policed public façade. The photo studios of Yangon became secret zones of free expression, where people could dress up in flared trousers and mini skirts copied from from illegally imported copies of Elle and Cosmopolitan, channel their creativity, and take the pictures home with them. These were vibrant minds making the best of things in the safety of their homes. 

Archivist Lukas Birk has been collecting and archiving these fantastic photographs from Myanmar since 2013, and has created what is now the biggest photo collection in the country. 

"I discovered that so much of the archives and research on Burmese history was all pre-independence. There was a lot on the colonial history, but so few visual references that showed what Burma was like after 1948. So for me it was important to have these visual materials so anyone – especially young Burmese people – can access them and can see visual references of their past. That was one of the main goals – giving accessibility to these visual materials. We put on local exhibitions and even started a small publishing house, as well as putting together a website that’s our first attempt at making an open source archive. 

The photographs have their own unique style. You can clearly see how free expression is happening in the photo studio, and how people want to express themselves in specific ways. That’s not a look that was necessarily solely based on what was happening in Europe; it’s a blend and a mix, so it has its own local identity."


Want to see more images from the archive? Click here to step behind Burma's closed doors. Prepare to be transported back to 1979. 



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