A local photographer uses photographs to raise awareness and money for Burmese refugees
January 13, 2008 By Sarah Lemon
The picture showing an apprentice monk at a Buddhist temple in Burma isn’t worth just 1,000 words. Its display has so far elicited $1,000 in donations to Ashland photographer Fred Stockwell.
After documenting the people and conditions last month at orphanages and refugee camps just over the Burmese border in Thailand, Stockwell is establishing a nonprofit organization for direct aid. The young monk’s photo is his marketing tool, a token in exchange for donations.
“With photography, you have to have a purpose,” he says.
The 62-year-old Stockwell is best known locally as an aerial photographer. Before settling in the Rogue Valley 20 years ago, Stockwell traveled the world, developing a particular fondness for Asia. He was refused permission to travel in Burma — also known as Myanmar — five or six times over the years.Yet Stockwell only had the slightest idea of the military government’s stranglehold on the country and its rising tide of atrocities. October’s mass demonstration of Burmese monks demanding lower prices for commodities and the release of political prisoners, including democratically elected leader Aung San Suu Kyi, captured Stockwell’s attention.
We’re right on the edge of genocide in this country.”The photographer booked a trip to Thailand, where approximately 200,000 Burmese have fled for reasons of political persecution or because their family members were executed, their villages burned and the surrounding countryside sown with land mines.
“I can show you things that you couldn’t normally see,” Stockwell says. “There’s a graphic limit where people don’t want to see.”
Stockwell couldn’t help but document injured and ill Burmese patients in a clinic near Mae Sot, Thailand, but he focused most of his week-long sojourn on capturing the curiosity and kindness of so many orphans and families making do in a country that’s not their own. He concluded his trip visiting a Buddhist monastery, getting there via the “Freedom Bridge” over the border to Myawadi, Burma.
Despite the presence of a half-dozen humanitarian aid groups, Stockwell says he noticed gaps — coats, bags of rice, simple medical procedures that simply have to pass through too much bureaucracy if handled by a larger agency.
“What we’re looking at are the small things that are actually really big,” he says.When he returned to Ashland, Stockwell decided to collect funds in order to deliver direct aid to Burmese refugees and orphans. He’ll put the money to work on a return trip — this time to Burma for six or seven weeks.
“With just a little bit of money, you can make a heck of a lot of difference,” Stockwell says.
Stockwell, who leaves for his trip to Burma Wednesday, says he plans to update a blog, “Burma Eyes” (www.eyestoburma.org), with his latest photos, travel diaries and accounts of humanitarian efforts. In the works, the Web site likely will be up this week.