A Thai worker takes a break along the Burma / Myanmar border right outside the main gate of Mae La

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/125th  ISO 200

 

The day was absolutely beautiful.  Exactly one week ago from the time you're reading this, I was up on the Myanmar border, camera in hand, notebook at the ready, and totally blown away by the beauty of this sweet spot on earth.  All my previous visits were during monsoon season and I'd marvel as the low clouds hung lower than the mountain tops and with the sun blocked from view how the cool and rainy weather felt so different from Bangkok.  But not today.  Today the skies couldn't be any bluer, the leaves more green, or the air more fresh.  As the cool 28-30C air gently washed over my head and shoulders I was once again reminded how beautiful nature can be.

This man decided to take a nap high on a pile of logs under a great tree.  He chose the perfect place, protected from the sun the cool breeze covered him like a blanket as he slept.  From my vantage point I employed my 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens at the full 200mm.  I was mindful the man could wake and spoil the picture at any moment, so I forced myself to concentrate and make the capture as quickly as I could.  I selected the aperture, small enough for a sharp focus of my subject and his foreground, but still wide enough to gently blur the parts of the background not vital to the composition.  Exposure is critical.  Too much exposure and the many highlights that dance across this scene will be blown, too little and the shadows which shape the scene disappear.  I figured I might have time for only one exposure before he woke, so no bracketing.  Using my experience more than my light meter I made my settings and made the capture.  I didn't make another.  I knew it was right.

This image isn't significant because it was right, or because it captured a perfect peaceful moment in a beautiful location or made a great exposure.  This image is significant because of the contrast I could see with my eyes, but chose to hide from the viewer with the assistance of my camera.  Notice the picture below.

 

A Myanmar refugee in the confinement of the camp

Canon 1ds Mark II, 70-200mm F2.8 IS, @F8  1/60th  ISO 100

 

This man is also enjoying a quiet peaceful moment.  Less than 15 meters from the man in the picture above.  The contrast?  The man sleeping on the logs is a Thai man.  Free to do as he will in Thailand.  The man reading the book is a Burmese citizen, a Karen.  He lives behind the wire of the Mae La refugee camp and is anything but free.  He lives in a large cage.

We have the same sweet spot on earth, the same great weather, two like men, both enjoying their leisure time.  The contrast is in their level of freedom.  One man is free, the other caged.  One is free based on nationality and accident of birth, and the other is caged based on nationality and the same accident of birth.  They could have been born a mere 500 meters apart physically, but the differences in their lives are light years apart.  One man is free to live his life in a country that welcomes him, the other man escaped from a country trying to kill him and now remains in limbo, a prisoner of circumstances.  Behind the wire.  The contrast is startling.  Made more so when you realize the year is 2009.