Photography with a Purpose – Documenting Myanmar from 1987-2012

By SC Shekar

A photo-journalist captures current events for news organizations, while documentary photographers document social and cultural issues to present a realistic representation of reality. Both aim to shed light on important events and issues through their images.

“I think photography always has to have a purpose. It must mean something. At some point, it must help with a vision. You have to tell a story with it, otherwise it becomes just empty, pretty pictures at most. But when you are able to impact another person with the images you take, then I think you are getting somewhere”.

Educated in Malaysia and Australia and trained as a lawyer, SC Shekar began his career as a photojournalist in the late 1970s, working for newspapers in Malaysia, Hong Kong and the Philippines, and with a news agency in New York. 

In 1989 he established Reds Studios, which specialised in editorial, architectural and food photography. His trend setting work for the Shangri-la hotels, Hilton, The Four Seasons hotels & resorts, The Ritz Carlton Reserve and the Marriott group has won him much acclaim.

Over the past three decades, Shekar has concentrated on documentary photography. He has been commissioned to do major documentary assignments in India, Sri Lanka and Papua New Guinea, and spent more than a dozen years photographing Myanmar (Burma) during a period of political upheaval beginning in the late 80’s. He has been working with Malaysia’s indigenous communities for more than thirty years, creating an unparalleled portfolio of pictures of daily life as well as their struggles over access to natural resources.  

Shekar’s work has appeared in many solo exhibitions, notably at Malaysia’s National Art Gallery. He has published more than 27 books covering themes as diverse as architecture, food culture, portraiture, indigenous people’s lives and crafts. His most recent major project was Grit & Grace: The Grandeur of Monochrome Malaysia, a stunning collection of photos of Malaysia’s topography and communities within, making extensive use of helicopters to photograph the country. The images were published in 2017 in a large-format handmade book of the same name. 

Shekar is currently working on a project documenting Southeast Asia from the air.