Grace Baey’s portraits of Yangon’s trans population are intimate without being intrusive [PHOTOS]

Htet Htet runs a beauty salon, which also serves as a safe space for LGBT youths. Photo: Grace Baey

Some photographers are able to capture the most delicate moments deftly. With her project Living Choices, Singapore-based shooter Grace Baey showed her ability to do just that.

Baey spent one month in Yangon taking pictures of the city’s trans population for the photo series — and despite the short time frame and limited window for gaining the trust of and access to the community, the images she captured provide innermost access to the lives of trans people living across the city’s subcultures and socioeconomic levels.

Shin Thant works as an advocacy officer at Colors Rainbow. After experiencing several incidents of police abuse in Mandalay, she came to know about the work of Colors Rainbow through a training course on LGBT+ rights. She is now a strong advocate for LGBT+ rights in her community. Photo: Grace Baey
Shin Thant works as an advocacy officer at Colors Rainbow. After experiencing several incidents of police abuse in Mandalay, she came to know about the work of Colors Rainbow through a training course on LGBT+ rights. She is now a strong advocate for LGBT+ rights in her community. Photo: Grace Baey

The works will be officially unveiled in Myanmar this weekend at the fifth annual &PROUD art exhibition at Myanm/art alongside other LBGT+ themed photos and illustrations.  

Included in Living Choices are images of drag performers, students, advocacy workers, business professionals, and a quasi-celebrity that acts as a brand ambassador for makeup and fashion lines. Baey has captured images of people relaxing in bed, spending time with friends, and with their biological families. She spent time at a beauty salon on Kabar Aye Pagoda Road that has become a safe haven for LGBT+ youth and with the transgender dance group Moe Goe Nyan Gyer (“Thunder Little Birds”) as they traveled to performances.

Yaya enjoys a light-hearted moment with her partner, Kaw San, in their shared apartment. Yaya and Kaw San have been living together for the past six years. Kaw San also cared for Yaya’s mother when she was ill and eventually passed on. Photo: Grace Baey
Yaya enjoys a light-hearted moment with her partner, Kaw San, in their shared apartment. Yaya and Kaw San have been living together for the past six years. Kaw San also cared for Yaya’s mother when she was ill and eventually passed on. Photo: Grace Baey

Chiara Luxardo, one of the &PROUD organizers, told Coconuts of Baey’s work: “We fell in love with her sensitivity in capturing the community. The way she was able to enter their lives and tell about them with such delicacy, exploring a different angle to their usual portrayal, that of resilience and courage. This is exactly what we hope will inspire the community and people watching the show.”

With this work, Baey hopes to move attention away from the harassment, abuse, and discrimination that often characterizes the nation’s headlines in media portrayals of this group — and instead, draw eyes to the camaraderie and solidarity that defines its community.

Ow Wei, 21, is the youngest member of a transgender dance group called Moe Goe Nyan Gyer, which means “Thunder Little Birds”. She joined when she was 11 years old, after being estranged from her family. She doesn’t know what the future holds for her, but hopes that she can find employment as a make-up artist. Photo: Grace Baey
Ow Wei, 21, is the youngest member of a transgender dance group called Moe Goe Nyan Gyer, which means “Thunder Little Birds”. She joined when she was 11 years old, after being estranged from her family. She doesn’t know what the future holds for her, but hopes that she can find employment as a make-up artist. Photo: Grace Baey

And the project isn’t finished. Baey, who was in the city as part of an artist residency program by the Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film and Myanmar Deitta, hopes to keep the project going for several years.

Shedding light on issues for LGBT+ communities around Asia is a passion for the photographer. She’s completed similar projects in Singapore and Cambodia as well. With The Space Between Us she documented the struggles of a couple trying to stay together despite familial disapproval, while 8 Women shone a spotlight on the trans women of Singapore’s Bugis Road neighborhood.

Chris has an uneasy relationship with her grandfather who dotes on her, and doesn’t mind her putting on make-up at home. He is particularly concerned about her future, and struggles to fully understand why she would want to transition to be a woman. Photo: Grace Baey
Chris has an uneasy relationship with her grandfather who dotes on her, and doesn’t mind her putting on make-up at home. He is particularly concerned about her future, and struggles to fully understand why she would want to transition to be a woman. Photo: Grace Baey

For this project, Baey was able to make friends with her subjects, allowing people to trust her enough to let her into their homes to shoot them in their quietest moments.

The show is the result of many conversations about the kind of pictures that would properly tell the stories of the people represented. The name Living Choices was chosen to bring attention to the fact that life as a trans person in Myanmar takes courage and that the social stigma against LGBT+ people is still strong in Yangon.

To see more of Baey’s work, visit her website.

 

FIND IT:

&PROUD Photo/Art featuring Grace Baey
Myanm/art
98 Bogalay Zay St.
Opening reception: Sunday at 5pm, show runs Nov. 8-18 daily, 11am-6pm

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