SocDoc student documents Myanmar's young people

Photojournalist looks at the younger generation in a society often hidden from view

Photojournalist Rian Dundon, now a SocDoc graduate student at UCSC, documented the daily scenes of Myanmar's young people over several weeks last April.  (Photograph by Rian Dundon)
Rian Dundon
Dundon said he went to Myanmar with no particular plan and fell in with a group of kids. (Photograph by Rian Dundon)
Photograph by Rian Dundon
Photograph by Rian Dundon
Photograph by Rian Dundon
Photograph by Rian Dundon

UC Santa Cruz social documentation graduate student Rian Dundon slipped into Myanmar last April, blending in with the backpack crowd.  Dundon, a photojournalist, had been living in China for the past five years, documenting the lives of Chinese young people.

Dundon said he went to Myanmar knowing the election was coming up in November. "I knew there would be a lot of interest," he said.

Technically, no foreign journalists are allowed in the southeast Asian country so he kept a low profile when he applied for a visa in Bangkok after a photojournalist friend was denied one.

Dundon's photographs from Yangon, the former capital once known as Rangoon, are published on, as a photo essay titled "To Be Young and Cool in Burma." (Though now called Myanmar by the ruling junta, "Burma" is still used by some media outlets including Time magazine.)

Dundon's photos show teens hanging out exhibiting their unique street style. He said he didn't have an assignment or a plan when he entered the country. "That's the way I work. I honestly didn't know much about Myanmar. I just kind of go and ask questions rather than go with preconceived ideas," he said. While in Yangon, the cultural capital of the country, he "fell in with a group of kids."

"It's interesting to look at this younger generation," Dundon said, a generation frequently overlooked by western journalists. "It's easy to 'exotify' the place, look at the monks and the temples," he said. He wanted to concentrate on what hadn't been seen.

Dundon had made similar photographs in China, looking at youth identity after he graduated from NYU in 2003 with a degree in photography and imaging. While in China, Dundon became friends with Anna Sophie Loewenberg, a UCSC grad who makes web films.

He said he considered journalism graduate schools but chose UC Santa Cruz for the opportunity to work on long-form projects.  He returned to the U.S. three months ago. Now in his first year in the "SocDoc" program, Dundon, 29, grew up Monterey. His mother is a UC Santa Cruz graduate.

"It's close to home, like a homecoming," he said. Dundon plans to return to China to complete his thesis for his master's degree.