Sunday, August 22, 2010

'Diversity and Challenge: Thai Photography Today,' Manit Sriwanichpoom

'Diversity and Challenge: Thai Photography Today,' Manit Sriwanichpoom in the Silpawattanatham Column of Siam Rath Weekly News magazine (30 July - 5 Aug 2010).

Woranan Chachawanthipakorn (b. 1954, Bangkok), "Thai Ways".
The oldest kinds of photos are those which take a 'pictorialist' approach. There are photography associations in various countries (including Thailand) which carry on and faithfully preserve this tradition.

The photographs of Woranan Chachawanthipakorn are clearly pictorialist in character.
This Thai photographer swept up prizes in venerable exhibitions such as the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain -RPS, instituted in 1853 in London, and the Photographic Society of America - PSA, which started in 1859 in New York.

Because it is an old approach, there are formulas, a grammar of picture making. This approach is easy to understand, very basic and easy to absorb, making the pictures of Woranan immediately impressive for viewers. Woranan is able to present the 'Thai Way of Life' in color slides using a 35 mm camera. The images come out colorful, fresh, clean orderly and neat, even though it's quite the opposite in the real world.

In any case, Woranan's photos can represent the feelings and thoughts of many Thai people (including the Thai government) who want to see their own culture, beautiful and unblemished, without the pollution and all that rests on the falsehood of the modern industrial and technological era.

For example, a picture of the sun setting over a body of water; fog and mist over a stream; a line of monks walking out to receive alms offerings: these pictures decorate walls. We often see them in homes. Such images give peace and make us feel happy. They give a feeling of serenity when we gaze upon them.

Woranan Chachawanthipakorn was selected as a national artist in photography in 2009.

Dao Wasiksiri (Born 1956, Bangkok), "My Thai".

Dao has a dual inside and outside perspective, being the son of someone in the foreign service. He was born in Thailand but grew up abroad. Having studied film and photography at California State University in the USA, Dao Wasiksiri has a point of view as a photographer unlike his Thai compatriots who also shoot local scenes. 'My Thai' is what Dao calls his 'visual autobiography.' It can be understood as an attempt "to define what it means to be Thai" from Dao's own personal point of view. He uses a digital camera as his tool.

In the middle of 'Pop Culture' (วัฒนธรรมประชา) everything is scrambled together between local and imported cultures, for example, from America, England, France or Italy, and from Asia as well, for example from Japan or Korea. We can still see the 'Thainess'...or can we? In Dao's point of view, the Thai character is apparent in the 'cleverness' in finding immediate short-term solutions rather than doing long-term planning.

For example, the picture of the man trying to talk on his cellphone as he is being splattered almost head on with white powdery water. If you look carefully, you can see that he solves the problem of preventing a wet cellphone by covering it with a protective, water-repellent, red 'condom.' It is Songkran (the traditional Thai New Year) in the April hot season. Nothing can halt Thai people having fun. The 'rubber' is very useful, more than even preventing pregnancy and AIDS.

In the midst of the uproar and turmoil of the globalization era, the 'Thainess' of Dao always brings a smile and the sound of laughter to everyone who see his work.

Maitree Siributr (Born 1983, Ubol Rachathani) Isarn Boy Dream.

Some artists use photography for fun, an escape from reality. Maitree Siributr a young male from PSG/SU uses photographs to pose questions about the 'cultural hierarchy' and the 'essence of being Isarn' in his first works of photography, 'Isarn Boy Dream' 2007.

Maitree invited his friends of different races and nationalities to make a holiday upcountry in Ubol Rachathani province. They enjoyed themselves like children in the fields and gardens green and parched. They were like the white hippies of the '70's who dreamed of equality and classless societies without racial prejudice. Maitree presents these ideas sincerely and guilelessly.

It cannot be denied that Maitree's pictures with his hair dyed blond, wearing fashionable sunglasses and swimming briefs, his body virtually naked, bending to pick a flowering lotus is a picture which reflects very well the changes which have been occurring in Isarn (and Thailand). It is not only the whites and blacks in Maitree's photo who look so strange in Isarn. The artist himself seems to be a stranger in his own land.

Tatiya Udomsawat (Born 1980, Bangkok) "Immortal Nature" 2006.
Tatiya Udomsawat, though he is not a photographer in the usual sense of the word, is able enough to use photographs as means of communicating his ideas about Thai society. He works digitally by putting photos through the Photoshop program in his computer. 'Immortal Nature' was made when he was a student at PSG/SU.

His family sold plants from Tatiya's childhood home, which engendered in him a love of nature.
His rented house is more or less overrun with plants.

Now he poses the question: if the city today were cleared of all people, what would it look like? Tatiya concluded that it would certainly become a jungle, because he has seen empty buildings and empty plots of land in the countryside soon be taken over by all kinds of plants. 'Immortal Nature' expresses this conclusion. Nature can survive without humanity (but man cannot live if man destroys nature.)

[Tatiya uses] Photos of famous department stores in downtown Bangkok - places formerly filled with shoppers, tourists, students of all ages, vendors and hawkers, police and municipal officers, tricksters and pickpokets - formerly coming here each day in the tens of thousands. Today, they have all vanished away.

[In Tatiya's pictures] The jungle now covers all
after enduring the pollution and the overheated world for so long. These pictures are not a little satisfying [in light of the long record of human abuses.]

Without really intending to do so, the picture of Government House and the Democracy Monument overrun by jungle mirror back a feeling in the hearts of Thai viewers.
The political situation today is boiling over. The conflict and breaking up, the shattering and disorder has been going on for more than three years, and shows no sign of ending. Politicians and bureaucrats are still corrupt and unyielding. Society finds no way out.

Governments and elections are not likely to solve the problem. Both seem to be completely worn out and unworkable.

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