Some time ago Greg Holland got in touch with a series of photographs he’d taken of East London boxers sparring at a local club. The images took a considered look at the relationships fostered in these quiet corners of the city where boys and men of all ages train, coach and support each other in a manner of touching solidarity. Greg’s photos were excellent, but we’d already shown a couple of boxing stories on the site in previous weeks so decided to wait until he had more work to show.
Since we were last in touch he’s made some pretty radical life changes and upped sticks from London to Myanmar, following his girlfriend, who works for the BBC, into totally unknown and uncharted territory. The images he’s captured so far are wonderfully engaging and paint an evocative picture of a country still rebuilding itself from years of political and military instability. They also show a side to the country that few have had the chance to see; one of real natural beauty. In fact Greg’s lucky to be able to visit at all; it’s only very recently that tourists have been allowed back into the country and the Burmese police have something of a reputation for their ferocity.
We thought we’d take the opportunity at this point to introduce Greg, his work and his epic travels abroad and talk life without the internet, chatting metal with street kids and developing a doughnut addiction in hot weather…
Where do you work?
As of three weeks ago I currently work in the City of Yangon, Myanmar, formerly Burma. I fled the endlessly cruel winter of Britain, fatigued from the astronomical rent of east London and the frustration of the daily commute across the city. I sold my furniture, put my record collection in storage, grabbed my camera, my laptop, some Daisy Dukes cut offs and a few too many shirts and headed out here.
I’m still finding my feet in this city, it’s a city that wants to work, that wants to connect together and turn into something beautiful, but it’s like trying to solve some cryptic riddle at the moment. There’s a sim card lottery about to take place that will grant some form of internet access; regular sims only last a month or so. The internet is still pretty tricky out here – someone in a bar told me they downloaded a film the other day, but I’m dubious. I have to sit in the foyer of fancy hotels buying expensive coffees just to check my Instagram.
I’ve started to come to terms with getting over my internet addiction. Suddenly checking Buzzfeed every day doesn’t seem so important, although I do get the cold sweats when I think about how I can’t access Reddit on a daily basis. I’m going to be so out of touch with the memes when I get back.
I’ve set up a little workspace in my little flat. I run around taking photos in the city, working on self-initiated projects, then hunting down where I can use the internet and drink a mango smoothie while I fire out emails all afternoon. I’ve recently come back from the north of the country in Shan state and I caught the river boat to the south of city to a township that was virtually destroyed by the cyclone a few year ago.
From the muddy banks on the south side of the river, where a man pushes a bicycle strung up with 20 half dead chickens, spitting his bettle nut chew on the floor as he makes his way back to his bamboo hut, you can see the southern bank of Yangon with the British Embassy and The Strand hotel. It’s one huge sliding scale of culture.
How does your working day start?
Currently, I roll out of bed when the sun starts to creep its way into my room, reminding me how my life in the cold harsh realities of Britain means I can’t handle the heat too well. So I get up, make some coffee, scramble some eggs, slice up some mango, sit around in my underpants for a bit and then start my chores for the day. Having completely dismantled the only routine I ever knew, I’ve got to motivate myself into being productive and making the most of my time here.
However, I’ve just discovered a donut shop at the end of my street which has about 20 different flavours for about 30p a pop so I’m currently working through their catalogue of delights on a daily basis.
How do you work and how has that changed?
Being able to survive on about $5 a day means I’m not pulling my hair out anymore. I’m working on my own projects while in talks with NGOs and charities out here who need their work documenting. It’s incredibly cheap to live here and flying within South East Asia is incredibly cheap too, so continuing my work in different cities and more remote areas is easily achieved.
I’m reading and digging into the history here in Yangon. It was only less than six years ago that the monks took to the streets of Yangon in protest of the government. It ended in the bloody and brutal murders of these monks in their own monasteries by the Military Government. Being able to walk down the streets where journalists were openly murdered by soldiers, whilst holding my camera is still something I can’t get my head around. I was able to freely walk around an airport the other day – it was a small airport mind – but I was on the runway just taking photos and no one said anything. I took a photo in Burnley town centre once, (BURNLEY!!) and was accused of being a terrorist by the local security guard.
So, to get back to the question. Everything has changed, absolutely everything and I am trying to make the most of it all the best I can. The more people I speak to, the more I learn about the city and its history and the more projects and articles I conjure up. Its fascinating and never-ending. The city is progressing at such an incredible rate. It’s an exciting atmosphere.
Where would we find you when you’re not at work?
I figured I would have a bit of time on my hands while I was over here and I knew I was going to go cold turkey from my internet addiction, so I bought a banjo before I left. On my down time now, I’ve been jamming on this banjo; the song from Deliverance was an obvious first. I’ve been trying my hardest to learn the Burmese language, but other than that, I’ve been wandering round this big old city.
There’s no tourists really, never have been, so everyone is genuinely interested in foreign people. Nobody’s trying to hustle you, so I just find myself talking to people everywhere I go. The kids over here are getting into punk and metal and all have really cool band t-shirts, so I’ve been discussing Megadeath and Opeth with some street kids.
Would you intern for yourself?
Having an intern may suggest that I’m doing more work than one person can handle, which currently isn’t the case. I think the laws of employment are a little more relaxed over here so maybe I could get someone to spray me with cold water mist, chop me up some mangos and try and figure out this damn air conditioning unit.
I’ve got a big project up my sleeve which may require some additional man-power so we shall see. But I reckon I would intern for myself. I’d have to get used to seeing my employer sat around in his underpants all day, sweating profusely and listening to Bon Jovi non-stop.