Photos Look Back at 19th Century Burma

By Yen Saning 21 January 2014

RANGOON — A new photography exhibit in Rangoon is offering a glimpse of what Burma was like in the 19th century.

Hosted by the Italian Embassy and the Yangon Heritage Trust, a local NGO dedicated to preserving Rangoon’s heritage, the exhibit is showcasing nearly 50 photographs that shed light on architectural styles from over a century ago, as well local fashions, the daily life of various ethnic groups, and the people who lived and worked at royal palaces around the country.

The images were taken by three foreigners who owned photography studios in Burma in the mid- to late 19th century. Most were taken by Italian-British photographer Felice Beato, who owned a studio in Mandalay in 1887 and took a wide array of portraits of people from that era.

“With these photographs, we want people to think back to their past, celebrate this past, and help understand, remember, and record their history,” said Thant Myint-U, founder and chairman of the Yangon Heritage Trust, during opening remarks on Monday.

Among those at the exhibition launch were Maria Lourdes M. Salcedo, deputy head of post at the Philippines Embassy in Rangoon.

“It looks much simpler, the way people dressed, and some of the streets were empty of cars or traffic,” she told The Irrawaddy while admiring some of the photographs.

“I’m happy to see that they have renovated some of the colonial buildings. They should not be demolished, they should remain, I think. Even the way of dressing, it should be preserved.”

Another exhibition goer, Thar Htet, chief executive of a Rangoon-based IT company, said he was also interested in the fashions and culture of 19th century Burma.

“We don’t have much reference to Burmese traditional dress nowadays,” he said. “In this exhibition we can study how the Burmese dressed, and their social system, 10 years before the colonial era.”

The photographs will be displayed until Feb. 28 in the lobby of the Yangon Heritage Trust on Pansodan Street in Rangoon. Copies of some photographs are available for US$5 to $25.