Do you ever wonder what Yangon was like before all the cars came?
A new online documentary project launched last week called Yangon Time Machine aims to give visitors a glimpse of how this city has changed over the last century or more. The website is filled with vintage photos of famous places in Yangon superimposed on photos from today. An overlaid slider function allows you to watch old Yangon gradually morph into what it is today.
The site is the brainchild of Will Low, a consultant who has been working in Myanmar intermittently over the last few years.
“I wanted to make a kind of reverse time capsule, linking the Yangon of today with Rangoon as it was,” he told Coconuts Yangon. “Then, I hope, in 100 years someone will come along and repeat the project again, and they’d have three sets of pictures showing the evolution of the city over centuries.”
Each set of photos is set above a short essay on the history and importance of the site it depicts. For example, the photos of Sule Pagoda come with an anecdote about how one European visitor in 1892 predicted that Burmese pagoda style was “well advanced on the downward path of decline and is doomed to die a natural death.”
Low then writes: “Given that there’s barely a hill in the country without an elegantly tapered pagoda on top of it, I think we can safely say he got that one wrong.”
And like that European visitor, Low hopes that visitors to the site will come up with their own interpretations of what Yangon’s ancient history and rapid change mean to its residents.
“The project is intended to be documentary, and though it inevitably sneaks into the text I write for the photos, I’m not really trying to wade into the debate about heritage and preservation,” Low said. “I do love a lot of these buildings and their physical history, which for me has an inherent value. I realize, though, that what I see in these old photos isn’t necessarily what others do.”
With the help of an antique dealer friend, Low finds these old photos online and in old books, and he is always on the lookout for new sources.
He launched the site with four initial posts, and starting tomorrow, two new posts will be added every week.
He said: “Yangon is a fast changing city, and people are justifiably focused on the future. But having an understanding of the history of a place helps build a shared identity, and a more unified community. Like in London, for example, history is everywhere, and even for people who have only lived in the city for a few years, the Londoner identity is really strong. So, I think anything that adds to a shared vision of local history can be a positive thing.”
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