A ground breaking photography project by award-winning documentary journalist James Mackay calls for the unconditional release of all Burmese political prisoners, of whom human rights groups estimate there are over 2,000 currently languishing in jail.
Many of those incarcerated took part in the democracy demonstrations in 1988, were members of dissident groups or otherwise fell foul of the junta. Over 160 former prisoners have been photographed and their stories recorded by Mackay for Even Though I’m Free I Am Not, which is due to be exhibited at Amnesty International’s UK headquarters next week.
Central St Martin’s photography graduate Mackay has been working closely with human rights organizations the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) and the Democratic Voice of Burma for the last 18 months to locate and talk to former prisoners, many of whom agreed to be photographed with the name of a current political prisoner emblazoned on their palm.
“I came up with the idea initially then I approached the AAPP to discuss it with them. I wanted to see if they thought people would be happy to get involved. I was keen to do it only if the former prisoners were completely happy about it,” Mackay told The Independent Online.
“But it just took off. This is perhaps because, as you can imagine, former prisoners form quite a tight knit group. Amnesty is taking the project forwards as part if its main campaign for political prisoners.” Most of those included in the project have fled Burma since their release. Mackay says there's little risk to those who have taken part because they're living outside the country, but there is still an element of danger involved which makes their participation all the more commendable.
Mackay has photographed former political prisoners from other countries as well as Burma, including Japan, the UK, Norway and Thailand. The project took second place in the political photojournalism category at the prestigious Prix de la Photographie Paris 2010 awards last month.
The exhibition at Amnesty opens on Monday at an event during which several former Burmese prisoners of conscience will be speaking, including Daw Nita Yin Yin May and Khun Saing, both of whom are featured in the project.
Even Though I’m Free I Am Not opens at Amnesty International's UK headquarters in Shoreditch, London on Monday 21 June and runs until Thursday 24 June. www.amnesty.org.uk