Red Parasols | Myanmar

Making this image of novice monks in Myanmar who spend long days studying scripture, meditating, and dutifully performing daily tasks, their casual postures reminded me they are just kids. Hanging out together during a break time, joined in sweet friendship, spontaneously and symmetrically positioned in harmony with the grand setting and unified by the brilliant red of their robes and the one boy’s parasol, young monks’ training traditions and manner of dress have remained unchanged for centuries. These four boys are thereby connected to generations of monks; creating an enormous, cyclical family history that spins like a parasol throughout time.

Parasols are used year-round by people in Myanmar—as protection from the blazing sun on the country’s hottest days or from rain during monsoon season. The brownish-red dye is made from saffron flowers and the parasols themselves are hand-crafted using wood, paper, silk, and tree resin. The laypeople of Myanmar use parasols constantly. Parasols are a part of life, much like the sandals people wear.

Revisiting the photo during the reduced daylight of winter months in California, I remembered the light captured in this image. It comes from studying the setting for days before I ever pulled out a camera. Natural light bounces through the alcoves that are open passageways to the outdoors. The warm light of the chandeliers was so unlikely; a chandelier seemed improbable in a monastery. I tend to think of chandeliers as extravagant, gilded birdcages, but here, it is somehow magical, enchanting, buoyant. I never use a flash. Instead, I use patience to watch and see when the light comes alive in rich reds, blues, pinks, or violets. Light can completely transform a dull, practical, or unnoticeable environment.

Lastly, the inlays of the buddhas peering over this hallway aren’t judging the monks who pass through it as good or bad. It’s possible they like parasols offer protection; signifying guardians of this gorgeous space and its inhabitants.

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