Burma/Myanmar – Bagan monks

» Posted by on Aug 18, 2014 in Bagan, Burma, Featured, long trip, Myanmar, Portraits

Monks are very present in Myanmar, there are between 400,000 and 500,000 professional monks in a country of about 50 million people.

Our photo leader (Tuan) had arranged that we could photograph some young monks (called novices) during an entire afternoon.  Monks rise very early for the alms offering and then have their lunch quite early (around 11am). Since we went and photograph the sunrise that morning, we went to visit a monastery right before their lunch.

Monks raised at the monastery were, I guessed, between the age of 5 to 12.  Novices were generally pretty happy to have their photo taken. Their lunch is mainly composed of rice and vegetables. When the gong rings, they form a line from the youngest to the oldest. Each brings his bowl in which he gets a portion of rice.




Then they all pray and chant repeating what the head monk is chanting. The prayer is not quick, it lasts a good 20 to 30 minutes. During that time, I was able to move around in the room and capture a couple pictures.  I was not really comfortable  taking the pictures at first as I had the impression of interfering with a sacred moment. Before the prayer began, I had switched my camera to silent mode, in which the shutter is as quiet as possible, to minimize the disturbances. Our guide and Tuan had arranged this visit and we were expected, however a tourist saw us taking pictures from the outside and literally walked in, being almost rude and unconsiderate. As a group we did not mind sharing but we were trying to be respectful of what they were doing (praying) and we were trying to be invisible. I said trying, it’s hard to hide a group of 8 photographers :-)


After their lunch, which did not take much time at all, we learned that a group of novices would be going to the reclining Buddha, we asked if we could tag along. Once there, the young monks started praying in front of the Buddha. We had to start taking pictures in turn because the building is so narrow, you can only fit one photographer at the time. In this test shot, you can still see Tuan’s camera in my frame.



I was not inspired by the composition of the reclining Buddha and the young monks, sometimes I can’t seem to visualize the image I want to make. When that happens I have learned to let it go, stop taking pictures and enjoy the moment. Invariably, my eyes then found a detail or a moment I love and then I know the picture I want to get. _RV19201

We follow that group of young monks most the afternoon, trying to stay close to them and grabbing images as they went around the temples.



In the last temple they went in, they were in a group with a candle each. It was a fantastic setup and the young monks were amazing at not moving while praying.



While this led some great images, I walked around the temple and came across a hallway. It was perfect. I knew what image I wanted. So I asked Tuan and our guide if the monks could move into a particular place of the temple. They did not mind at all. It’s technically a styled image because I did position them to a better (photographically speaking) place.


By the time I had finish setting up my composition, the entire group had moved behind me and was already clicking away.  Everybody walked away from that temple with amazing images. Nothing was planned but that’s where a great guide helps. John was a three times monk drop out (really three times) so he knows their schedule, what they would do next, where they would go and most importantly he could talk with them and translate our requests.


You can find out more about this trip on my previous posts:  Shwedagon pagodaSule PagodaKandawgyi LakeKyaukhtatgyi, Nga Htat Gyi and Botataung Pagodas and the Bagan pagodas and temples (Shwesandaw, Shwezigon and Sulamani).

All the images presented here are available for licensing or as fine art prints.