If you had to tattoo your entire face in order to gain success, wealth, and respect, would you do it? That was the question many women in Southeast Asia faced in the mid-20th century. During my time as a solo traveler in Myanmar, I arranged to take a boat trip up a remote stretch of river into the illegal region of the southern Chin State. My goal was to meet and photograph women who had made this very choice.
It’s quite possible to travel to regions of Myanmar and see women with tattooed faces, but unfortunately, this act can be more exploitative than anything else. Tourists often take boats from Mrauk-U in Rakhine State or travel from the north into a different region of the Chin State to view various tattooed women there, like a carnival show. I really wanted to learn more and spend time with these women in their everyday environments, and hear their stories. So, with the help of my local boat driver and guide, I was allowed to cross state lines and visit these villages — apparently, at the time, the first Westerner to do so in many decades.