The Big Issue : Edition 474
26 THE BIG ISSUE 26 DEC 2014 – 8 JAN 2015 OLAF SCHUELKE WAS shooting street scenes in Yangon when he happened upon a roadside stall selling studded belts, T-shirts and CDs. Schuelke had heard about Myanmar’s punk subculture and asked the stall’s vendors, a couple of young men, if they knew of any bands he should seek out. Two days later, the German photographer took a taxi to an inner- city overpass where a crowd, mostly dressed in 1970s British punk garb, watched bands play hard and fast music. Schuelke was at his first punk show in Myanmar. “I was in the right spot at the right time,” he says. “When I took a few shots of the very young punks I asked permission from their dad. I had the feeling that most of them wanted me to take their photo.” In 2011, Myanmar’s military dictatorship was dissolved and a civilian government was elected. Now, youth are flexing new freedoms, experimenting with Western ideas and, perhaps, responding to political and economic hardships. Myanmar is still a developing nation and the gap between rich and poor is reported as one of the world’s widest. Schuelke describes the outdoor concert as an ‘illegal’ show. Police arrived, he says, and a deal was struck: the punks were permitted to continue their gathering. Some of the music was political, he adds, but some of those at the show appeared to be more interested in the fashion. Yet Schuelke, who grew up listening to punk bands in Germany, admits he was an outsider there. He suggests that, as in Western punk subcultures of the last 50 years, the reasons youth in Myanmar are attracted to punk music and styles are complex and varied. During Schuelke’s time in Myanmar, however, he did observe many punks engaging in localised aid work. “What they do is to organise themselves and change little things on a personal level, like helping the poor and homeless,” Schuelke says. “They hand out food and aid to some people in need on the streets of Yangon. The motto of the concert I visited was ‘food not bombs’ or ‘food for bombs’.” It would be a mistake to read Schuelke’s images as a supreme symbol of Myanmar’s new liberty, or at the least a symbol of the creeping encroachment of globalisation. Any experience in a subculture is an individual one; Schuelke’s photographs capture a tiny new community and only hint at the many relationships within. by Adam Curley » More at olafschuelke.com.