In 2010, as Aung San Suu Kyi was released from seven years under house arrest, an organization designed to empower young girls in Myanmar was quietly seeing the light of day. Its grassroots approach was innovative: it combined education and a way of meeting that resembled group therapy. As Myanmar was rolling out its democratization reforms, Girl Determined expanded. By 2012, Suu Kyi was sworn into Parliament and the program counted hundreds of participants. The same year, photographer Andrew Stanbridge was entering the country on a journalist visa for the first time. After meeting Girl Determined’s first participants as they finished their two-year programs, he embarked on a long-term project to document the organization. “It’s a group that is very close to my heart because I photograph a lot of terrible things,” he says. “So it’s just one of the more positive things in my life.” After three years of working on the project, Stanbridge is flying to Myanmar this week to prepare for his first exhibition there. He spoke to R&K from California.
Roads & Kingdoms: Tell us about the exhibition you are preparing.
Andrew Stanbridge: They are photographs that I have been taking for the past three years with Girl Determined. It’s their five-year anniversary and they had to operate under the radar for a while, so now with the opening up of the country, this is sort of like their coming out party. The exhibition will be in a beautiful, old colonial building and showcase about 40 photographs of the girls, the groups they work in and their daily life. Many of them will be present.