May 2018, Southern Shan State, Myanmar. We were in a series of meetings to consult villagers regarding their development needs. Luckily for me, I was not the one leading the discussions and thus I had more time to scan and photograph the villagers’ faces with my cameras.
Remote villages in this area are mostly inhabited by minority groups, such as the Danu and Pa-O people, whose colorful traditional garb could easily captivate any photographer. But once I had enough of the traditional costumes, my lenses almost always gravitated towards the elderly villagers who, by some sort of cultural protocol, were always seated in front or huddled in one corner, making it easier for me to capture their candid shots.
Later, as I was processing their photos, I was pondering on the possible reasons for my cameras’ seeming attraction to elderly persons’ faces. The pronounced facial lines do offer a lot of possibilities to the texture of the resulting image. The darkened skin and graying hair could create exciting effects on the color and tone. But I soon realized that these prominent facial features do not function individually or in isolation. What creates the greatest impact is the character that is exuded in the photo. A jolly disposition, a pensive moment, loneliness, or perhaps a subtle struggle between the wisdom from experience and the doubt of age — when captured in the portrait, are the ones that leave the greatest impression.
Or, perhaps it is just a vicarious experience on my part, knowing that one day I will reach that age, and seriously wondering — even already being bothered by the thought of — how it felt and what emotions would strongly show on my face when that day comes. Only time will tell.