Long neck Padaung

When I took this shot a few years ago in Myanmar, I thought that the photo would be a failure due to the extreme dynamic range involved. It was hand-held, shot into the sun, with the main subject being the Padaung woman in the shade. I revisited that photo quite recently and found, to my surprise, that it actually had a lot of information, and was close to my vision. So here it is in all its glory.

Buddhist monk smoking a cigar

Well before dawn, hundreds of monks, old and young, queue at Ananda Temple during the Ananda Pagoda Festival in Bagan, Myanmar. Around the temple, thousands of pilgrims have congregated and set up camp. A hive of activity, including worshipping, cooking, and shopping for trinkets, surrounds the temple. Here, a Buddhist monk smokes a cigar.

Hindu priest relaxing

Wandering around Hpa An in Myanmar, we made our way through the courtyard into the large Hindu temple. Dark but brightly decorated inside, with the main door overlaid with intricately patterned brass or bronze, this was likely the main (perhaps only) Hindu temple in town. It was quiet and I was pretty much free to walk around the place. Here, a Hindu priest relaxes by a window, reading a magazine.

Fishermen and cave

The town of Hpa An in Myanmar, surrounded by a karst landscape, offers opportunities to visit the caves in that region. Many caves are used for Buddhist shrines, and some are used for navigation. Here, nearly 20 kilometres from Hpa An, fishermen are shown outside a cave entrance that runs through to the other side of the karst hills.

Dancing with the Samburu at sunset

I’d spent a couple of days at the Lake Turkana Festival in Kenya, and the days had been hot and humid. Our last night there, dusk had arrived, and with it a fall in temperatures, allowing me to join in with the tribal dances. Pictured are members of the Samburu tribe singing and dancing well into the evening. It was a great night out.

Mazgouf in Baghdad

It was April 2011, just after dusk, and we made our way to a restaurant in central Baghdad along Abu Nawas Street by the River Tigris. This area is well known for serving Iraq’s favourite fish dish; the “mazgouf”.

The restaurant, although having a roof, is open to the elements and was filled with many customers; obviously a popular place.

Having selected our live carp (allegedly from the adjacent Tigris but more probably from a fish farm), the cook removed the fish from the tank and then stunned them with a stick, gutted them by cutting along the back, applied some seasoning, and then impaled them to be slow-grilled next to an open fire of burning fruit tree branches such as from lemon trees and orange trees. What we didn’t realise was that it takes about an hour or so to cook the fish, so we had a lot of time to chat!

Carp are bottom feeders and if they were from the Tigris around Baghdad then I’m not sure that I’d have too many fish dinners; there’s just been too much dumped in the river. Once I’d got past wondering where the fish came from, I did enjoy the meal.

But the mazgouf is an important dish to the Iraqis and the Iraqi diaspora, and it helps to unite them through social gatherings and reinforce their identity and uniqueness; something that’s very much needed in these trying times.