Photographer Ryan Libre, whose images of the Kachin Independence Army in Burma have lately been garnering international attention, told me about an unforgettable experience he once had in Thailand at an annual ten-day vegetarian festival. There to shoot the well-known event, he became so overwhelmed by the overall mood and energy that not only did he stop eating, he felt himself over the following days literally becoming ‘one’ with his surroundings.
It’s this story that has me convinced that Libre is besides being a documentary photographer, or a photojournalist, above all an artist. For when asked whether he may have been experiencing, at that moment, the artists’ holy grail, or ‘flow,’ (when one becomes so encapsulated in the work he or she is doing all concept of time and self are lost), he told me in a pondering tone that indeed, perhaps he might have.
Of course, there’s also his keen eye for capturing timely moments and aesthetically pleasing frames within natural contexts, along with the ability to make intimate connections with his human subjects—drawing out a certain vulnerability, charm and honesty—that make his work overall so engaging for the viewer. This is, for me, especially evident with his set of images of the Kachin Army, in the several unexpected shots he’s included of the uniformed men laughing both into the camera and also caught off-guard. Looking at these, I feel that thanks to Libre, I’ve been given the opportunity to look into the lives of people I’d otherwise never have had a chance to come across, and make a connection with, (however one-sided it is).
Libre, a US native who has divided his time living in Japan and Thailand for nearly a decade, is currently based in the latter and working on his latest project, which will focus on the theme of skin tone and concepts of beauty surrounding Asian women. He’ll be in Japan again in the summer, for his exhibition ‘Portraits of Independence: Inside the Kachin Independence Army,’ which will be shown in Osaka from August 8 to 14.
Images, including those of the Kachin Independence Army, and information are on his personal website at www.ryanlibre.com