Burma, also known as Myanmar, has long been closed off to the rest of the world. Home to over 51 million people and 135 officially-recognized ethnic groups, the country has been siloed by one of the world’s longest-running civil wars. The military dictatorship that effected human rights violations from 1962 to 2011 has now officially ended. But four years later the nation’s major industries are still controlled by the military, who also command a quarter of all parliamentary seats.
Photographer Geoffrey Hiller first visited Burma while touring Southeast Asia in 1987. With the seven-day visa granted to tourists at that time, he walked through government-sanctioned locales including Yangon, Mandalay, and Bagan. Hiller says he was haunted by the country’s beauty and economic disparity: “Even ballpoint pens were in short supply,” he wrote me in an email.
Hiller began photographing daily life in the country after 1996, when foreigners were allowed to visit for 28 days. He returned several times after 2011, capturing Burma after it re-opened its doors to foreigners. Images from his excursions can be found in Daybreak in Myanmar (Verve Photo Books), a stunning, intense portfolio of faces and places that have been cloistered from the rest of the world for the last 60 years.
Hiller and his project came under official military scrutiny only occasionally. In 2000, when Hiller was making the web documentary Burma: Grace Under Pressure, he says he occasionally attracted the interest of the police. “I must have seemed suspicious with three cameras around my neck,” he told me.