Monday, October 11, 2010

Manit Sriwanichpoom, 'Thai Photography Today: Diversity and Challenge, (finish).'

Manit Sriwanichpoom, 'Thai Photography Today: Diversity and Challenge, (finish)' 27 Aug. - 2 Sept. 2010.

The Work of Om Panpairote (B.1970, America): Identity Crisis: Transsexual Series.
In addition to being the tourists' paradise with beautiful beaches, crystal clear seas, rich local culture, kind people who always greet you with a smile, Thailand is also famous for 'women of the second kind; (transvestites, 'lady-boys').
From expertise in sex change surgery to international transvestite beauty contest they all show how open Thai society is, how accepting of the fact that there is a third sex. In any case, when conscripting soldiers, a man who tests clearly as a 'woman of the second kind' will be excused with an official document which stipulates that 'this person has mental problems.' Some educational venues forbid such 'modified women' to dress as women when they go up to receive diplomas. They must all dress themselves as men.

'Identity Crisis: Transsexual Series' by Om Panpairote, a Thai photographer with a lot of spirit, made a name for himself in New York. He used his camera to investigate the sexual identity of this group. Om takes pictures like an anthropologist; he has his subject turn and face the camera squarely to confront the viewer. The pictures are divided into three: the first picture is before the modification; the second has eyes closed and dreaming - the subject is hoping that the viewer will see into the heart of this self, the beautiful self, gentle and sweet, like all Thai women.

Doubt and curiosity about the puzzle and mystery of the identity of the different sexes, especially women who have undergone transformation of their sex, making audiences unable to take their eyes off the faces so gentle and beautiful, from the silicone breasts, both perfect and faulty. Om is testing the minds of viewers about what they think about the picture they see. Will they laugh, sympathize, accept, or turn away?

Om graduated in film and photography from Georgia State University and from Rochester Institute of Technology.

Manit Sriwanichpoom (born 1961, Bangkok). His works in the 'Pink Man' series.

The fat man in the shocking pink suit with matching shopping cart first showed himself on the money road - Silom - in 1997, two months before the first wave of contemporary crisis in Thailand. He showed himself in various stories and events as a way of critiquing consumerism, capitalism, politics, tourism and terrorism, not only in Thailand, but across Asia and Europe. Pinkman and the 'Tom Yum Koong' economy. After that, Pink Man became the star and hero of the photographer-artist, Manit Srimanichpoom. Pinkman became a virtual icon of consumerism, embedded in the consciousness of audiences and hard to erase.

'Pinkman in Paradise 2003' was created three months after Muslim extremists bombed the club in Bali in October, 2002, killing more than 200 tourists. The world was dumbfounded because after the 9/11 incident in New York, no one expected terrorists to strike in SE Asia, in faraway Bali, a paradise for tourists - so much natural beauty- the local Hindu lifestyle.

That picture was replaced by images of flames, corpses, and the cries of the injured and wounded in the globalized era. There is no country anywhere or people who are not threatened by fear and the danger of terrorism.

In the latest work, 'Pinkman Opera 2009', Manit makes Pinkman perform with a young group of Likay players in order to make Thai proverbs. He chooses the proverbs which fit what is happening in restless Thai politics. The derisive conflicts for spoils and to gain the upper hand in swindling and corrupt practices in politics at the center, including the cutting down and execution of ethnic Muslims in the three southernmost provinces of Thailand. That was the handiwork of the policy of the former government and of state officials.

Manit Sriwanichpoom received the Higashikawa Photo Prize in 2007 from Hokkaido, Japan.


I would like to mention some little anecdotes about things that happened while preparing the Thai photography slow at Tokyo this time.

The Month of Photography in Tokyo has been going on for 15 years with the aim of promoting the popularity of photography among the people of Tokyo. The event is a joint effort by the Photography Association, galleries, department stores and companies which produce or sell photographic equipment. The 1st of June (the official 'Picture-Taking Day' in Japan - I don't know the history on this) Every year they organize the event all over Tokyo.

After 2004 the Japanese Photography Association went further and began inviting foreign participants to the shows. As far as I can recall, Bangaladesh, Singapore and Malaysia were first. This year the Association selected Thailand and chose to select some of my works and to work as a curator as well.

At first, I refused. I didn't feel comfortable at the idea of being the curator. I asked Mr. Yutaka Ohira, this year's director to find someone else. Not too long later, Ohira emailed back to say he couldn't find a more suitable choice. So he insisted. When I thought of the chance that Japan was offering and that Thai photography has almost no one showing seriously abroad, I accepted. But I insisted on having freedom to choose photographer and images.

Ohira sent his thanks in return and let me know that this year the theme of the show is 'The Forest, Our Home.' The aim was to urge people to think about the environment and see the importance of nature in Japan. He wanted me to select the Thai photos that fit with this theme.

I responded without any need to ponder. Thailand has no forests to photograph. The forests have been destroyed, unlike Japan where they still protect them well. Furthermore, we have very few nature photographers in Thailand. I feared that if I had to seek that group out, there would be no more than 5 persons, and I would not have anything to include in such a show. And another important point was if they wanted landscapes of beautiful Thailand, they didn't need to ask for my help in selecting the works. All they needed to do would be to Google the Internet or contact the Tourist Authority of Thailand. Finish. No need to waste any time with me at all. In the end, Ohira had to accept the fact and accept my suggestions to present on the theme 'Diversity and Challenge' as the alternate theme for the Thai show.

I selected the photographers and works and sent the works to Ohira-san. They were in groups according to the similarity in ideas expressed. There was some social criticism reflecting problems of changing ways of Thai life, and some concerning issues of culture and sexual identity.

Real males; artificial females. And philosophical, Buddhist-inspired images. And some abstractions of form and color.

I knew from the start that the organizers of the show preferred photos along the line of 'pictorialism,' charming pictures, beautiful, restful to the eye. There are very conservative preferences which are at odds with the contemporary world of what is real and what has happened. But I didn't want to waste time and resources on such things because Japanese people would learn nothing about Thai society and the ideas which Thai photographers express in this medium.

Ohira-san refused the works of Om Panpairote's 'Identity Crisis: Transsexual series,' because the breasts of the Thai transsexual were fully exposed. So he asked for another. I was amazed and angry that the host did not respect the opinion and the explanation given for selecting the work. Not that I was trying to get some laughs, but I wished to reflect the point about 'real men - artificial women' in Thailand, and also that Thailand is very famous all over the world for our skilled sex-change surgery.

But when Ohira took the photos in this series to the gallery-Nikon-salon, the manager was of the opposite opinion: he was quite ready to show the photos. If Japan has a famous photographer of nudes (Araki), an image of Om, the transsexual baring her breasts would have no meaning, would be of no danger to Japanese society.

In the end, I was happy that the audiences in Tokyo would have a chance to see an 'Exhibition of Thai Photography Today,' with content and style clearly different from the pictorialist photos of the Japanese. I want to take this opportunity to [publicly] thank the organizers.

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