The Changing Face of Myanmar: Myint Zaw’s Goldman Prize–Winning Photos of a Country in Transition

The Changing Face of Myanmar: Myint Zaw’s Goldman Prize–Winning Photos of a Country in Transition

The connection between international travel and environmental sustainability is a tight one; we visit new places and hope that our collective impact won’t be too damaging—that our children will be able to climb the skyscrapers, enter the temples, and swim in the rivers that we ourselves have enjoyed as travelers.

That’s why we look to the Goldman Environmental Prize for guidance about who is doing the important work to safeguard the places we love. Each year the prize honors people who have gone to great lengths, often at considerable personal risk, to protect the natural world.

One of this year’s winners is Myanmar native Myint Zaw, who, with his powerful photography and ceaseless organizing, built a successful grassroots movement to stop a massive Chinese hydro-power project that had been initiated on Myanmar’s Irrawaddy River. The Myitsone Dam would have been the 15th largest dam in the world, sending electricity to China’s Yunnan province. If built, more than 18,000 people would have been displaced.

Zaw, alarmed at the potential impact of the dam, started to photograph the river and the people who depend on its water. He produced a solo photography show which then grew into a collaborative effort, with musicians, poets, and artists contributing work.

Here, some of Zaw’s delicate, powerful photographs. He will be receiving the Goldman Prize, which comes with $175,000 in prize money, at ceremonies in San Francisco (April 20) and Washington, D.C. (April 22).

At top: woman panning for gold near the proposed Myitsone dam site.

Below: portrait of Myint Zaw, 2015 Goldman Environmental Prize winner for Asia, taken on the Irrawaddy River.

Photo by Andy Black.

People crossing a bridge in the Irrawaddy River delta.

Person walking on the bank of the Irrawaddy River with village and stupas in background.

Local woman carrying basket of sticks.

Boat anchored on shore of Irrawaddy River.

Farmers on bank of Irrawaddy River who are guiding oxen that are pulling plows.

Village people washing clothes on the bank of the Irrawaddy River.

The confluence of the Mali and N’Mai rivers that form the Irrawaddy River, the site of the proposed Myitsone dam.

Read “Burma Blossoms,” in which Matt Gross eats his way through the newly open Myanmar.

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