Chan Chao‘s portraiture is about the intimate moment he allows the viewer with his subject. For Chao portraiture is “communication through body language and facial expression.”

Santa Monica features the women of Santa Monica Prison, Lima, Peru. The prison is recognised as the site of detention for women caught and implicated in drug smuggling activities. There are dozens of foreigners from all over the globe. Santa Monica Prison contains an unusually diverse convergence of lives, stories and needs.

Not just in Santa Monica but in all his series, Chao intersperses his portraiture with environmental studies and in so doing expresses the inescapable strong-arm of military, government and judiciary.

In the portrait studies, Chao deliberately deemphasises the background; backdrops are evocative but not descriptive. The women of Santa Monica Prison are thus gifted something quite precious by Chao, their stage for a moment, and individual acknowledgment outside of a carceral context.

Two portraits from the 'Santa Monica Prison' series. © Chan Chao

Chao is well known for his nude studies for Echo, and his three-trip project to the border camps of Burma, his country of birth (See Chao describe his Burma project). Cyprus, again, reverently, deals with the portrait sitter.

All of Chao’s series should be viewed; together they create an winsome cloud of emotional sound. Wrap yourself up.


Chan Chao (born 1966 in Kalemyo, Burma) is an American photographer known for his color portraits. He and his family left Burma for the United States in 1978. Chao studied under John Gossage at the University of Maryland, College Park. When he turned 30, Chao decided to visit Burma for the first time since his family left but was denied a Visa. Instead, he travelled to the Thai-Burma and Indian-Burma borders where he photographed Burmese rebel and refugee camps. These images comprise his books Burma: Something Went Wrong and Letter from PLF, both published by Nazraeli Press. Nazraeli also published Chao’s book of female nudes entitled Echo. His Burma portraits were included in the 2002 Whitney Biennial. Chan Chao lives in the Washington, DC area. He teaches photography at George Washington University.