You know, I am used to the media, I know what works, I know what sells, I’ve been doing covers for 20 years ( on Dec. 8 2010, portrait photographer Platon traveled to Burma to photograph dissident Aung San Suu kyi ). And I am not a photo journalist, you know, I am a portrait photographer. I know how to create a visual logo, that were resonated with people.
I’ve never experienced, I’ve never been through this kind crazy trip. It was like a beautiful dream, ( Nearly all foreign journalists are barred from working in Burma. ) or a living nightmare are mixed up at the same time. As soon as we arrived at the hotel, and I got a call from the front desk, and they said” Mr Platon, miss H is here to see you.” “Miss H, it’s gonna be Hannah, the writer.”
I am used to greeting people “Hi, how are you doing.” This is the world operates. As she walked in, tension walked in with her. she said” we have to go to the NLD offices- Aung San Suu Kyi offices to negotiate the portrait setting.
We got our driver to drop us off at a hotel down the road from the NLD offices. We stopped at a shop to buy a hat to cover our faces, and Miss H said “you must never allow anybody to see or photograph your face, because once they’ve done that, they will trace you.”
We marched into the offices, we were ushered up stairs, and we sat opposite. Sort of middle-aged man, and he was the gatekeeper. He looked at the schedule, and he was jammed pack, kept saying “you have no appointment, you have no appointment.” So i grabbed this guy’s hands, both of them, across his desk and looked into his eyes. And I said “ look man, look, you got to help me, coz, I can’t do this on my own. And we’ve come a long way for this. And I know she’s busy and I know we have no appointment, but you can’t make an appointment for this kind of thing. You just got to help me, man.” So he looked through his pages again, and he said “ maybe tomorrow you will be lucky, maybe.”
So we left, hats on, sunglasses on, marching down the street, trying to round over with Miss H’s driver. And then she got a call on her mobile and then she goes” what? are you sure? on my god! on my god! okay, I’ll talk to you later.” She hanged up and she said:“don’t look up, keep your heads down. We are being followed, they are on to us.”
So the chase begins. There was a young taxi driver just waiting there. We jumped into the car and said:“ Drive, drive man, drive, drive, drive like hell.” As this young driver was driving like this, he put his hand on the glove compartment, then pulled a picture that was laminated of Aung San Suu Kyi, and he said “mother, mother, he said I’ll help you.”
All the police jumped into their cars, and started following us. This car chase went on for like 2, 3 hours. We were driving like 90 miles an hour, down highways, driving through markets, knocking over stores, we were doing u turns, and car was swinging from side-to-side, kind, across five lanes of traffic, eventually we lost them. The next morning we woke and all headed straight for the NLD offices.
She walks in, she is beautiful, she’s elegant. she said:“I am so sorry, I’ve kept you waiting, I am so sorry it is so hot in here.” It was about 95 degrees in this room. There is a point where i said to her :“I need your help now and you gonna have to open up to me, in a way, that you’ve never opened up to anyone before.” and I said :”just let it all go and show me spirit. Because that’s why i am really come to photograph.” and something happened.
It was just beautiful. I felt it, my assistant felt it, Hannah felt it, and so did mother. We rapped the shoot, we packed our gear and it was a weird moment of great satisfaction and accomplishment that we got the shot, but it was a incredibly moment of anxiety that even we’ve come this far, we could still be detained and who knows what could happen. We have a decoiled film, packed in every single bag. So that if we were arrested or detained or as miss H said :“ compromised, they would take that first, hopefully.” We headed straight for the airport. I was going through security with films stashed in my socks, man. It was like our sweat in, I was terrified I’ll be arrested even at the point of security. The door closed the plane, the plane took off and we made it.
I thought as we got on the flight, this is an image for freedom, this is an image for humanity, this is someone who is changing the world, and made a huge sacrifice to do it. And she has something, she has a spirit, she has a quality that can inspire people to be better, to make a difference.
It is something more than a personal power, on photographing something, that is changing history, for the better.