What difference can a light bulb make? When photographer Rubén Salgado Escudero came across people using solar panel systems in rural Myanmar, he realized the potential for their lives to improve was huge. From late night Chinlone games to early morning fishing trips, he started documenting the ways that people who previously had no access to electricity were choosing to spend their newly found hours of the day. Combining imagery with practicality, he used solar bulbs himself as his only light source to shoot each photo. The resulting Solar Portraits, which won a Sony World Photography award, were so compelling that the photographer received messages from people across the world who asked how they could help. His answer was to launch the Let There Be Light Myanmar campaign, which will raise funds to purchase and distribute solar systems across Myanmar’s Dry Zone in partnership with the organization PACT. He joined R&K from India.
Roads & Kingdoms: Can you describe Myanmar’s infrastructure today in terms of electricity?
Rubén Salgado Escudero: Only about 26 percent of Myanmar’s people have access to electricity, so you can imagine how primitive that is. Outside of large cities, that can actually go up to 90 percent. This is partly due to the fact that the government hasn’t made it a priority, especially not during the military junta. It’s trying to do a little bit more now, not enough, but it does have plans to bring electricity to some areas and even hand out solar panels to about 3,000 villages. I think there are about 65,000 villages in the country so obviously that’s not too many. According to large NGOs who have read the government’s plan—and I have read the documents too—it seems quite irresponsibly planned out in terms of sustainability. The quality of the systems that they will provide is not ideal, it’s not long-lasting, and they don’t have a plan so far for maintenance programs or for education, to teach people how to use these solar systems. So the government is really not doing enough and the people are pretty much living in the dark.