Monday, July 5, 2010
Manit Sriwanichpoom. ‘Photographs of Thailand Today: Variety and Challenge’
Chamni Thipmanee (b.1950, Songkhla) ‘Dignity.’
After struggling hard and lonely, Chamni Thipmanee realized his dreams. He finished in photography from the Instituto Europeo De Design, Rome, Italy. He came back to Thailand in 1983. He opened a studio to do advertising in 1988 and today he has become famous. Though he has succeeded in fame and fortune, he has never forgotten his roots as a child upcountry in Songkhla. He had been hired to go into the forests to make a rubber plantation. Doing that, he experienced exhaustion, deprivation and brutality and learned the necessity of endurance. He knew the struggle for life and daily survival of the laboring classes. From this came the black and white works of ‘Dignity’ from 2001. They are full of sympathy, respect and honor for the humanity of migrant alien workers hired to cut sugar cane. You see such workers everywhere in western Thailand where Chamni snapped these pictures.
Chamni chose a Rolleiflex with a small flash in order to reduce the contrasting shadows on faces. He put the camera at a low angle, waist high, to put the people in the picture on a par with the viewer. It is a ‘humanistic’ point of view. If you look carefully, you can see that some of the workers in the pictures are wearing suit coats, which might amuse but also perplex viewers.
“I want to honor these people,” said Chamni, speaking of the reasons why he prepared good clean suits for the cane cutters to put on. He tore up the rules which forbid good documentary photographers to show strictly straightforward realities. They are not supposed to lay even a finger to distort the truth in their pictures. Chamni decided that the picture would rather be true to his own feelings with the result that the viewers will have a sympathetic attitude toward these alien workers.
Michael Shaowanasai (b.1964, USA) The Life of a Girl Child.
Michael Shaowanasai, a contemporary Thai artist, has an international reputation. He likes to transform himself into a female of the second kind. He likes to get help by using the expressive methods of the common folk, using commercial retailers for his own works. In ‘The Life of a Girl Child,’ (2005) Michael reflects dreams of having a somewhat ‘normal’ life for himself, as depicted in the portrait photos on the walls of parlors everywhere.
He hypothesizes himself as a high school girl in her school uniform. She wins the ‘Miss Be-Heaven’ competition, graduates and receives her diploma, gets married, has a darling son, and late in life, takes the nun’s white robe for a cool and peaceful life following the Dharma.
Michael sums up his dreams (the dreams of no few Thai women) in just 6 pictures which invite audiences to be amused and entertained with the artist’s impossible foolish yearnings. In the real world, Michael is a very muscular guy, though in his artworks he is gentle and sweet, focused and happy with a beautiful and perfect life.
Michael graduated in art from the Art Institute of Chicago. He has twice represented contemporary Thai artists at the Venice Biennale in Italy – in 2003 and 2009.
Piyatat Hemtat, (b.1976, Bangkok) ‘Verve’
After finishing his master’s degree in painting from Chelsea College and then working as an advertising photographer in London for more than 16 years, Piyatat Hemtat decided to come back to Thailand to find out if he had become a tourist in the land of his birth. He tried to understand the sources of Thai society, and became interested in Buddhism, the foundation of Thai society today.
‘Verve’ is a set of black and white works along Buddhist lines. Piyatat has appropriated Buddhist teaching about how to live by the ‘middle path.’ This is his creative approach. Piyatat took a picture of a closed door to create a metaphor, like keeping viewers locked in a totally dark room with only a white light (the light of Dharma), very bright and stealing under the foot of that door for us to see. It emerges as a straight line in the center of the picture. Sometimes we see the bright line as a T-shape, sometimes as an L, a plus-sign (+) or sometimes a long, horizontal, bisecting line.
‘Verve’ is a work of photography like an abstract painting – intense and sincere but light, because it gives viewers hope of escaping darkness and blindness to seek the light behind the door.
Isarete Sutisiri (b. 1983, Nakorn SiThammarat) ‘Room.’
Having been born and raised in Thailand’s rural countryside, when Isarete Sutisiri came to study at Bangkok University’s Faculty of Fine Art, he felt constrained and uneasy every time he had to go back to his narrow little rented dormitory room. The world, once wide, cool and green, had become solid concrete walls. This was the source of the inspiration that led him to create ‘Room.’ His photographic works reflect the subconscious, the dreams, and the desires of upcountry people, of little people who struggle and strive to survive in the big city.
Isarete used his rented room as a studio. He bought posters of views, landscapes, waterfalls, mountain forests, and the sea, and put them up on his walls. Then he invited his friends in the dormitory to come and be his models. They sat with backs turned to the camera as they look at the image of the fresh, lovely, bright landscape which appears ‘outside the window.’ It seems as if those posters are real nature there before them. These images soothe and pander to feelings of hopeless wishfulness for what has been so violently lost. They are misleading, an artificial nature which deceives the viewer day after day as he dreams of having a chance to return to real nature which he (the artist) left behind.
The set of photos in ‘Room’ by Isarete reflect a way of life of the lower classes in urban society. Their income is very small – a painful reality – but they are at the same time still able to laugh at themselves out of one side of their mouths.
Anusorn Charoensuk (b.1982, Bangkok) ‘Charoensuk World Tour.’
Anusorn Charoensuk, a young male artist from the Fine Arts Department of Bangkok University, created a stir for himself with his work by putting his paintings together with photographs in the series ‘Charoensuk World Tour.’ (2008) He was responding to the goodness of his father and mother who had sent him through school till he graduated. The only thing that he, as a newly graduated artist, wanted to do was to take his parent on a round-the-world tour. (Touring is a symbol of success and pride in Thai society.)
Anusorn did as the wealthy do: he painted backdrops like photographers did in the old days. There was a picture of the Eiffel Tower in Paris. He asked his parents and siblings to pose for a photo with him as if they were all actually there on the spot in that chilly place: everyone had to put on warm clothing! Then he made a backdrop using the Sydney Opera House, and one of Mt. Fuji, of the Great Wall of China, and of other important tourist destinations round the world. Whoever looked at these works cannot help but smile, sharing the happiness of the Charoensuk family.
Anusorn said, “Because I believe in dreams like this – foolish unrealizable dreams – they have value for me, though they may seem pointless. These dreams bring us happiness in seconds or minutes because the real world may be too cruel.”