Yangon: A City Worth Saving

By Steve Tickner 9 July 2013

Two photographers have embarked on a Myanmar book project documenting the crumbling British colonial-era architecture for which Yangon is rightfully renowned.

Moroccan-born Australian Jacques Maudy and Italian Jimi Cassaccia manage to depict a time-warp metropolis through their striking pictures while also sending a serious historical preservation message.

Their book, “Yangon: A City to Rescue”, was released as a 60-page hardcover on April 22 during a launch at the Australian Embassy.

The body of work offers quality imagery and fine detail in saturated color with a special feel for the monsoonal mood of the former capital.

The work is part of a collective effort by historians to enact legislation to protect this valuable aspect of the city’s culture for generations to come.

The trust received a significant boost when Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr visited Yangon in June and pledged his government’s support and expertise to help protect the nation’s rich architectural heritage.

There is deep concern that with the recent easing of economic sanctions, a drive for development may pose a serious threat to the significant yet fast-decaying examples of 19th century design. Many buildings are in need of serious restoration after years of idle neglect.

Already, as a direct result of the trust’s work, the government has reportedly suspended 20 building permits until the subject of conservation can be clarified.

Mr. Maudy and Mr. Cassaccia have made the best possible use of Yangon’s dank and overcast climate to soften shadows and bring out excellent details of the heritage buildings in arresting color. In addition, there are many fine examples of portraiture and Yangon street scenes.

The photo book includes special sections for the Pegu Club, the Secretariat and Shwedagon Pagoda.

The ancient Shwedagon Pagoda forms the cultural heart of Yangon, and at a height of 110 meters it towers over the surrounding parks and monasteries. The photographers captured visiting Buddhist worshipers and the intricate complex and its gilded spires against the backdrop of Yangon’s overcast skies.

The exclusive Pegu Club of colonial times was built in the late 1880s of top quality teak, and although now in serious disrepair, it has withstood the test of time remarkably well. The club was in its heyday both elitist and racist, with even the highest ranking Myanmar nationals banned from admittance.

A number of exterior and interior photos highlight the iconic Yangon Secretariat building. This is where Bogyoke Aung San, Myanmar’s independence hero and father of current democracy icon Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, was murdered by a political rival in 1947.

Since the time of his assassination the building has been closed to outsiders, so these images give a rare glimpse into a significant period of Myanmar history.

This story appeared in the June 2013 print issue of The Irrawaddy magazine.