U Sann Aung, became famous in Yangon in the 80’s with his colour photography endeavours. Born in 1951, he received his first camera at the age of 10. His photographic interest was so strong that he went as far as to demand darkroom equipment to his parents in exchange for being a novice a second time. U Sann Aung studied at the Rangoon Institute of Technology and first worked as a mechanical engineer but he soon quit his job to turn his full attention to photography. U Ohn Khine, a friend of his sister, introduced him to colour photography and as his early experiments in the darkroom were a success he stuck with it. Gradually he acquired more and better equipment. Demand was high and he increased his daily or rather nightly production from 50 to 100 rolls of film. By then he opened a store on Yangon’s 34th Street. His sign read “U Sann Aung Colour Lab” and from a distance it looked like “USA Colour Lab”.
In the early 1980s the government imported a fully automated colour-processing machine, charging five kyats per print. U Sann Aung charged twice that, but as colour prints were in such demand and waiting times for the government prints were up to one month, his business continued as usual. Throughout the 1980s and 1990s, U Sann Aung imported new processing machines from Japan and Singapore, continuously adapting and updating his business. He also started using his newly acquired medium format Mamiya RB 67 to take calendar photographs of famous actresses and actors such as Moh Moh Myint Aung, May Than Nu, May Sweet, Tin Nilar Win, Kyaw Thu, Soe Thu and Yan Aung. He imported a slide projector system that was able to screen images behind models in the studio, thus allowing him to transfer the photo shoot to any place in the world.
U Sann Aung opened several shops in Siek Kan Thar and at Yuzana Plaza in 1998. Business was good and all his processing machines were running till late in the night. When digital image taking and processing started to get its foot in the door, U Sann Aung was a forerunner and even offered an e-photo printing service via the internet. In late 2008 he was hospitalized repeatedly and was unable to attend to his shops until 2014. By that time the business had changed completely. People no longer needed prints; phones and laptops had replaced his expertise in image making but U Sann Aung’s vibrant portraits of the 80’s will be forever celebrated as a landmark in the history of Burmese photography.
U Sann Aung original prints are also part of the exhibition “Burmese photographers” curated by Lukas Birk at Secretariat.