In Focus Friday - Train of inhumanity

15 December 2017

SIG: Documentary

This week Saskia Wesseling shares the story behind this powerful image from Myanmar which she submitted for October's bi-monthly competition (link) and gives us some suggestions to really improve our photography.

Hi, Saskia. Can you give us a little background about the shot?

I was in Myanmar in October of this year, while the Rohingya crisis had world wide focus. I was in Yangon, so not close to the area where the actual border crisis took place. I was on the train station an hour before my train would leave for rural Myanmar, which meant I had time to look around at absorb the location. It was then when the well-equipped, clean train appeared shining like a diamond between the other old trains. So I headed over and I felt the need to capture the train. As I was taking in the situation through my lens, the veiled lady started to walk towards the train. I saw the colour of her veil matching the stars of the EU. I knew I had to act fast, and when she walked in the stars I knew I had the shot that told the story. I was sure she shouldn’t be in focus, as many of the Muslims in Myanmar don’t seem to be a focus for the EU. What they prefer to focus on is brand new trains. Is the EU really incapable of influence over the Rohingya crisis and protection of human rights in this country?

Where can we find more of your work?

I had an exhibition in Hong Kong about glamour in unglamorous places and was published November in the Post magazine of the South China Morning Post with a documentary about Back-Alley Barbers. (link) My series about rural Yunnan / China, was featured in the National Geographic November 2017 (link) You can also look at my website (link) or Instagram (link). Although I always feel the pictures should be better seen printed in a magazine or in a gallery. 

While you’re out what makes you press the shutter release?

While I'm out I walk around, and try to be a open as possible. Open to people, to feelings and open to stories. I wait for the sensation of wanting to tell a story that I saw, heard, encountered or felt. Using a picture to tell a story can be so rewarding. 

What’s the best purchase you’ve made for less than £100?

I love to read novels and watch documentaries. So for me it's always books and tickets to the cinema.

What's been your best strategy to help your photography?

I took a master class in Tokyo from Newsha Tavakolian (link). Investing a whole week in learning from another photographer is something I like to do yearly, but it's hard to live up to. Not only because of time and money. But it is also hard to find really great photographers that are open to sharing their knowledge and who can also really help me in my goals as a photographer. So the combination of finding them, taking time off to invest in yourself and being able to do that at the same time as the photographer is available is a major challenge, but a rewarding one. 

Thanks Saskia, I look forward to catching more of your work.