Solar Energy in Rural Myanmar

In a series of staged portraits, Rubén Salgado Escudero documents the people from remote areas of Myanmar who are using solar power to radically improve their daily lives.

Rubén Salgado Escudero© Rubén Salgado Escudero, from the series, Solar Portraits. Village leaders walk through Inn Gaung Village illuminated by a solar panel energy system. Pindaya Township, Shan State, Myanmar.

Being surrounded with electricity, we tend to take it for granted. The International Energy Agency actually estimates that roughly 1.1 billion people in the world still live without access to electricity. In rural Myanmar for instance, where Rubén Salgado Escudero was based for two and a half years from the beginning of 2014, communities still rely on candles and kerosene once the night has plunged everything into darkness. “There is an electrification project for rural areas but it is estimated to take between 5 and 10 years”, he explains. In places like that, solar panels are a quick, inexpensive, momentary solution until a real one is found.

"Technology should not be a privilege”, he exclaims. “The challenging part is how can these technologies be affordable for everyone?” A witness of the way in which this small rectangular energy provider improved people’s daily life, Rubén Salgado Escudero decided to tell what media are too rarely giving a voice to: a positive story. He travelled to Myanmar’s rural areas, and quickly to India and Ouganda on assignment for National Geographic, to show the various uses of the solar panels in remote communities.

© Rubén Salgado Escudero, from the series, Solar Portraits. Ko Win Zaw Oo, 38, fisherman and father of two by his boat in Lui Pan Sone Village. Kayah State, Myanmar.

“The project is about people sharing their life’s story. I talk to them and ask what they do with their light. They tell me their stories and I come up with the idea of how to set up the photo. So, their story is the starting point, then interpreted through the light in their environment.” The result is a series of playful, theatrical scenes lit with this empowering light. A documentation of various lifestyles and cultures, they form a social panorama of rural life.

“There is a little anecdote to be found everywhere. What about in Cuba, in the Amazonian, in a refugee camp? There are a million stories.” In Myanmar, fishermen can set up their boat in the dark and go to fish earlier to get more.

© Rubén Salgado Escudero, from the series, Solar Portraits. Ko Ba Aye, 26, and his 1 year old son Sai Kaung Htet Mon outside of their home in Lui Pan Sone Village. Kayah State, Myanmar.

In India, they use solar panels to see the air bubbles from the mud fishes at night. In Ouganda, an elderly woman raising chickens came up with the idea to feed them during the night in order to have them bigger – something they would not naturally do since they don’t eat in the dark.

“Children can study, people can milk their cows at night. Apart from that, it’s also used for recreational purposes – they can play chess or soccer at night. All in all, it empowers them to create better standards of living”, he adds.

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Rubén Salgado Escudero is a Spanish freelance documentary photographer and videographer based between Mexico and Myanmar. Having grown up in various countries, he is deeply passionate about social and cultural affairs. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram.

Laurence Cornet is a writer and curator based in Brooklyn focusing on cultural and environmental issues.

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