Spike Johnson Spike Johnson

Following an undergraduate degree in fine art at the University of Derby, England, a process of elimination led a trail to Texas. I wanted to learn to use image making as a tool to inform, witness, and document. Mentored by Throne Anderson (Corbis) and Kael Alford (Panos), I embarked on an MA in photojournalism at the University of North Texas. I worked on stories connected to civilian militias, and the booming natural gas industry. Since, I’ve covered migration and conflict stories across Europe and Asia, spending time documenting the sectarian violence that's engulfing Myanmar, and the mass evictions of Irish Gypsies from English soil. As my photography practice moves on, I’m trying to scratch deeper under the skins of the stories that I cover to tell an honest and intimate tale, while using photography as a tool to convey mood and to record emotional experience. As I make work, I’m attempting to understand the world, to give others a window to something important and unseen, to build empathy and connect experience. My stories have won awards from the Society of Environmental Journalists, NPPA, College Photographer of the Year, the Society of Professional Journalism, and the Texas Associated Press Managing Editors annual competition, and have featured in outlets such as The Global Post, Vice Magazine, The New Yorker, Foreign Policy, The BBC, The Telegraph, Human Rights Watch, and others.

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Of the Same Life: Releasing Myanmar's...
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Thein Myint's bamboo hut is filled with villagers looking for help.Their boys are being kidnapped by the Myanmar Army for active service. In the 20 ft square shack in the shanty town of Dine Su, on edge of the Yangon River, people fill all available space. Mothers, fathers, sons and daughters overlap on the hard floor. The men spit betel juice though the cracks in the worn boards, and the women fan each other to keep cool. Younger children peek in from outside, their fingers clawing through the steel mesh in the glassless window.

“Times have changed. There is international pressure now regarding forced labor, child labor,” says Thien Myint, “they can't keep doing it.”

Since the violent crushing of pro-democracy protests in 1988, the Myanmar Army's need for rapid expansion, has encouraged the forced recruitment of boys as young as 11 to fulfill impossible quotas. Kidnap, beatings, and drugging are tactics that deliver boys to the front lines of Myanmar's far flung civil wars, to sweep for mines, attack and execute villagers, or man live offensives. In December the Myanmar Army released 80 child soldiers from active service, bringing the total freed children to 845 since 2007. There has been steady pressure on the Myanmar Army and non-state armies to fall in line with ASEAN human rights recommendations, and International Labour Organization conventions. The armies are making small acts of compromise in appeasement, and during the final few months of 2014 have been increasing their releases. However although Myanmar is a member of the Convention of the Rights of the Child, the use and recruitment of child soldiers is still commonplace. Slowly though soldiers that were forcibly recruited as children are returning to their villages, to their families who have long thought them dead.

FULL ARTICLE AVAILABLE UPON REQUEST

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Burma: Female Workers Unite
Yangon
By Spike Johnson
16 Aug 2014

Since the legalization of workforce unions two years ago, thousands of Burmese women are walking out of workplaces, striking, and demanding improvements to their working conditions. According to the Ministry of Labour Records, 959 basic labour organizations have been set up since legalization, and the Department of Labour Records has recorded 447 garment worker strikes since 2012. In a patriarchal country that's historically weighted in favor of the male, the new laws seem to have placed industrial power firmly in the hands of the female laborers.

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Gun Disease in Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
10 Oct 2013

In the gold mines of Sinktu and Thabait Kyin, in the Mandalay division of Myanmar, gold mining is famous. Over thirty gold mines are active, but the scene doesn't look much like wealth. Half naked men, with rusty pneumatic drills and homemade dynamite are lowered 500 feet, on fraying ropes, into holes in the ground. Covering their faces with rags, they drill gold ore from the stone.

“We break the rocks with high pressured guns, but breathe the small particles that come from breaking the stone. We contract lung infections that we call "gun disease," says Wat Tay, 35, a gold miner from Sintku Township.

This year gold production in the area has doubled due to softening government sanctions and international demand. Myanmar's huge mineral deposits are seen as key sectors in export-driven growth. In recent months the price of gold has slowly risen in Myanmar, possibly linked to the decline of the dollar, as an opportunistic public sell their jewelry at high prices ready to buy back if prices drop.

Forums are being held in capital cities by the Myanmar government, mine owners, and the Ministry of Mines to persuade foreign investment from corporate companies for industrial technology. The idea is to reduce Myanmar's poverty rate from 26 percent to 16 percent by 2015, by exporting the country's gold reserves. However, added demand for export means an increased need for manpower, working hours, and medical support.

Through the night groups of men squat above mine shafts, ankle deep in muddy puddles, waiting to haul out ore or winch up their friends. After working in the mines for around ten years, the worker's lungs give in form undiagnosed diseases. Hidden in bamboo huts, attached to oxygen, they weaze out their last days.

“The owners of gold pits don't care about the health issues of the miners, so the health problems are increasing. They don't pay for safety protection for us, so we make do ourselves, like putting some clothes over our mouths, or buying cheap masks to reduce the dust we breath in,” says Wat Tay.

Miners are given one or two bananas after a shift in the tunnels, to help with nutrition. But no respiration equipment is provided by the mine owners, and the miners don't have the money to invest in equipment themselves. Although cases are frequent, perhaps inevitable, there is no health care system for the miners and no diagnosis of “gun disease.” Instead they are given a tank of oxygen and left to fend for themselves, too weak to seek other employment or to leave their huts.

“I can't breathe well. If I breath my abdominal muscles are tight and it hurts also in my back. I pain feel when I breathe. Twice they've given me pills for Tuberculosis, but this medicine has no effect for me,” says Kwin Tone Sel, 42. He used to mine in Sintku Township, before his lung disease prevented him from leaving his bed.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 25
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works as an intermediary between villagers, and the International Labour Organization. She helps families find evidence of kidnapped children in the Army's training camps of Myanmar. Often she bribes her way into the 12 training facilities around the country, using meat or fish to pass the malnourished guards. When she's sure of a child's location, she directs the family to the ILO with their case.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 24
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works from her small house in DIne Su. She lives with her husband, but they often give shelter to those in need, children with nowhere to go, or returning soldiers, feeding everyone that comes through her door.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 21
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Snake Pagoda south of Yangon. Boys in rural areas, often praying or hanging around public areas make easy targets for military recruiters. Many families are too poor to send their young to school past second or third grade, preferring them to contribute to the family income when work is available. Myanmar Army brokers prey on this desire for work, using fake jobs as drivers or mechanics to lure the boys towards nearby army bases.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 22
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Thein Myint works as an intermediary between villagers, and the International Labour Organization. She helps families find evidence of kidnapped children in the Army's training camps of Myanmar. Often she bribes her way into the 12 training facilities around the country, using meat or fish to pass the malnourished guards. When she's sure of a child's location, she directs the family to the ILO with their case.

"€œWhen we want a child soldier released, we have to work together with the village authorities and the International Labour Organization,"€ she says.€œ"We cannot do it alone."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 23
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

One of the two jetties that Arkar Min and his group work at together. When there is no work at one jetty, they make their way to the other. Usually they hope to earn around 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2 per day.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 20
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
25 Nov 2014

Arkar Min and his colleagues leave their job hauling fish from trawlers to trucks, and walk towards a boat that will take them an hour up the Yangon River to their village. Their boss is a Chelsea fan, and requests that they wear the football strip as a uniform at work. Anyone missing the kit is fined 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2, the same as they're average daily wage.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 17
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Tun Tun Win remembers playing football at the edge of his village. A patch of dusty ground, squeezed between an army base and a shipping port was used as a pitch, worn flat by dozens of bare feet. Leafy trees provided some shade for spectators, and a fringe of tall bamboo offered a little privacy. It was here that he was lured into the Army by a civilian broker at 14 years old. “If the military released all of the child soldiers, there’d be no one left,” he said.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 18
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Win Myint and his wife, appealed to the International Labour Organization for the release of their son from underage enrollment into the Myanmar Army. Now they're waiting for his official release under the 2012 Joint Action Plan.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 14
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
04 Nov 2014

Yangon Train Station as night falls. The Myanmar Army make regular patrols of transport hubs, approaching young boys aged between 11 and 15 who are trying to get home late at night. Officers apply escalating pressure to each in the hope of forcing recruitment.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 15
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

As Buddhist lent ends and the slim window of winter approaches, couples are keen to marry before the heat returns. Today in Dine Su, a village too small to feature on the map, residents are busy enjoying four separate weddings.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 16
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Boys spend their days climbing trees and playing in the street in Dine Su, one of Yangon's countless shanty towns. Many families are too poor to send their young to school past second or third grade, preferring them to contribute to the family income when work is available. Myanmar Army brokers prey on this desire for work, using fake jobs as drivers or mechanics to lure the boys towards nearby army bases.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 13
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
15 Nov 2014

Arkar Min and his colleagues leave their job hauling fish from trawlers to trucks, and walk towards a boat that will take them an hour up the Yangon River to their village. Their boss is a Chelsea fan, and requests that they wear the football strip as a uniform at work. Anyone missing the kit is fined 2000 kyat, the equivalent of $2, the same as they're average daily wage.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 10
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
11 Nov 2014

At fifteen years old Arkar Min was lured away from his village by a man offering him driving lessons. His food was drugged and he awoke in an abandoned building inside Shwedagon Pagoda Army base. He had no bed, but slept on the concrete, using his longyi as a pillow.

'€œThere were six of us there. Mostly they were 15, 17 at the most. None of them knew they were in the army,"€ said Arkan Min. 'I wasn't there in the first place because I was interested. I was forced."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 11
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Dine Su balances between an army base, a shipping port, and industrial factories, teetering on the slippery banks of the Yangon River. A shanty town of bamboo, mud, and dusty football pitches. It is typical of countless other communities. Most people come here from out of town, victims of government land grabs for condos or luxury golf courses in the Delta region. As an illegal settlement, Dine Su is susceptible to exploitation by authorities.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 12
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
17 Nov 2014

The ferry port of Botahtaung Pagoda. The Myanmar Army and it's civilian brokers use the city's dark bus stations, train stations, and ferry ports as recruiting grounds for young conscripts. Boys who are traveling home late at night, are approached by the army on false charges, and offered an ultimatum – a long prison term, or recruitment.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 08
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
15 Nov 2014

At fifteen years old Arkar Win was lured away from his village by a man offering him driving lessons. He was drugged and awoke in an army base.

"€œI was told I'€™d been sold to the Myanmar Army for $80,"€ he said.

Now twenty one, he'€™s free, and working in a fish yard on the River Yangon. He earns $2 per day, and commutes an hour up the river to his village, Dine Su.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 09
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Alongside the Myanmar Army's partial release of it's child soldiers, and regardless of it's continued forced recruitment of minors, billboards can be seen around Yangon displaying various messages of military innocence.

"After I turn 18 and become a man, I'll get into the military, but now I am still young. The military does not accept people under 18."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 06
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
24 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura on his fifth day at his new welding job. He's been out of military prison just over one week, after defecting to the enemy, and over the Thai border when he was 17.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 07
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
08 Nov 2014

Win Myint stores his son'€™s few possessions, ready for his return from the Myanmar Army. Like many other boys Aung Than Zaw was forcibly recruited from their village at the age of fifteen, and sent to the Shan State front line. His father has been working with the International Labour Organization to secure his release for two years.

"Sometimes I think he'€™ll never come home, that the army will continue to delay, or that they'€™ll sell him to someone else on the way,"€ he says.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 04
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura is reunited with his four year old son, after spending a year and a half in military prison. He’d been fighting front line battles with the Myanmar Army in the jungles of Karen State for over two years, and eventually defected when he was seventeen, hiding at the Thai border for four years. Now twenty three, he is a free man.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 05
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
30 Oct 2014

Tun Tun Win shows both his Army ID card, proving that he's been discharged legally. Usually the Army doesn't begin awarding pensions until 60 years old, Tun Tun Win is drawing his now at the age of 30, $27 per month. He served a 14 year stretch with the Myanmar army, beginning when he was 14 years old.

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 02
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
21 Oct 2014

Kyaw Thura, aged 15, after finishing his four month training in Mon State, in Eastern Myanmar.

"There were rocks in the soup, and sand in the rice,"€ he said, "€œand I missed home terribly."

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Myanmar's Child Soldiers 03
Yangon, Myanmar
By Spike Johnson
04 Nov 2014

Yangon Train Station. The Myanmar Army and it's civilian brokers use the city's dark bus stations, train stations, and ferry ports as recruiting grounds for young conscripts. Boys who are traveling home late at night, are approached by the army and threatened with false charges. They are offered an ultimatum:€“ a long prison term, or recruitment.

"This is human trafficking, it's the same as prostitution," says Win Myint, 52, as he waits for the return of his young son from the military.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 02
By Spike Johnson
17 Aug 2014

17th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar Myitta Yait, in Shwe Pyi Thar, Northern Yangon. Workers sew garments at the new factory that was set up to employ women fired for striking

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 23
By Spike Johnson
18 Aug 2014

18th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar After a two month strike against their Korean employer, workers at the Master Sport Shoe factory in Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone wait for a court decision on they're compensation and severance pay.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 03
By Spike Johnson
17 Aug 2014

17th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
Myitta Yait, in Shwe Pyi Thar, Northern Yangon Workers sew garments at the new factory that was set up to employ women fired for striking.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 06
By Spike Johnson
17 Aug 2014

17th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar Myitta Yait, in Shwe Pyi Thar, Northern Yangon Workers sew garments at the new factory that was set up to employ women fired for striking.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 22
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

18th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
After a two month strike against their Korean employer, workers at the Master Sport Shoe factory in Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone wait for a court decision on their compensation and severance pay.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 20
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

18th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
After a two month strike against their Korean employer, workers at the Master Sport Shoe factory in Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone wait for a court decision on their compensation and severance pay.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 03
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

18th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
After a two month strike against their Korean employer, workers at the Master Sport Shoe factory in Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone wait for a court decision on their compensation and severance pay.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 01
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

18th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
After a two month strike against their Korean employer, workers at the Master Sport Shoe factory in Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone wait for a court decision on their compensation and severance pay.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 02
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

18th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
After a two month strike against their Korean employer, workers at the Master Sport Shoe factory in Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone wait for a court decision on their compensation and severance pay.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 24
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

18th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
After a two month strike against their Korean employer, workers at the Master Sport Shoe factory in Hlaing Thayar Industrial Zone wait for a court decision on their compensation and severance pay.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 04
By Spike Johnson
17 Aug 2014

17th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
Myitta Yait, in Shwe Pyi Thar, Northern Yangon
Workers sew garments at the new factory that was set up to employ women fired for striking.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 05
By Spike Johnson
17 Aug 2014

17th August 2014
Yangon, Myanmar
Myitta Yait, in Shwe Pyi Thar, Northern Yangon.
Workers sew garments at the new factory that was set up to employ women fired for striking.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 07
By Spike Johnson
17 Aug 2014

17th August 2014, Yangon, Myanmar
Myitta Yait, in Shwe Pyi Thar, Northern Yangon.
sew garments at the new factory, that was set up to employ women fired for striking.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 01
By Spike Johnson
18 Aug 2014

Aye Aye Khine, 35 years old, from Yangon.
She was fired for striking along with 150 other ladies. Now she works Myitta Yait Garment Factory, that was set up to employ ladies who've been fired for striking.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 10
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

Nu Nu Than, 26 years old, from Minbya Township, Rakhine State.
Her factory was closed without notice in June, she's striking for compensation and for re-emloyment.

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Burma: Female Workers Unite 09
By Spike Johnson
19 Aug 2014

Thau Thau Khine, 30 years old, from Meiktila, Mandalay Division.
Her factory was closed without notice in June, she's striking for compensation and for re-emloyment.