By JAMES ESTRIN, THE NEW YORK TIMES
Paula Bronstein has been traveling to Myanmar to take photographs for almost 20 years, so she's accustomed to the feeling that she was being followed everywhere. Mind you, it's not paranoia when you're actually being followed .
But this trip was very different.
"There was always a feeling of paranoia working here but not on this trip," Ms. Bronstein said from Yangon this month." I have been able to do whatever i wanted to do. Previously I was always trying to work under the radar."
The military regime that ruled Myanmar for more than 40 years, imprisoned political opponents and monitored journalists seems to be relinquishing some of its power as the country undergoes rapid change. The opposition leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been released from house arrest and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton visited Myanmar this month to encourage democratic change. Elections are scheduled.
Ms. Bronstein arrived in Myanmar to cover Mrs. Clinton but stayed after most of the press corps had departed. She photographed schools, a monastery and even the remote, bizarre, capital of Naypyidaw, a place she had been banned from visiting before.
Openly carrying two cameras, she wandered the wide streets that were spotless, well-lighted and almost free of traffic. While there was a big police presence in the capital, Ms. Bronstein was not bothered by the authorities. Several times she photographed the enormous Parliamentary Complex that has more than 30 buildings, the largest of which has better than 100 rooms.
Ms. Bronstein is a Bangkok-based senior staff photographer for Getty Images whose photos from Mongolia were featured in Lens last year. She had previously photographed Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in her home while the opposition leader was under house arrest. On this trip, she covered her public visit to a Buddhist monastery. Even more striking, after almost two decades of confinement and forced isolation, there were now posters of the pro-democracy activist displayed publicly.
The changes are happening so rapidly, it is impossible to know how long they might last or how far they will go. For decades, Myanmar has been a poor, isolated county with a badly managed economy.
"I think these changes bring more happiness to the people even though they don't yet have more money," Ms. Bronstein said. "The people have suffered under a repressive regime, but now there's a sense of optimism."