Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Street Photography, Manit Sriwanichpoom




‘Street Photography’ ,  Manit Sriwanichpoom in the Silpa Wattanatham column of Siam Rath Weekly news magazine,  30 Nov. – 6 Dec, 2012   (Yr.60, Vol.11)
                At the end of October, 2012, Chatchai Boonyaprapat emailed the news that street photographers were joining together to open a website for their work under the site name www.streetphotothailand.com.   

 There are six photographers in the group: Winai Dittajorn; Nopadol Wirakitti; Wisit Kulsiri; Akara Nuktamna; Narupol Nikomrat; Chatchai Boonyaprapat; and an invited woman photographer, Dao Wasiksiri.

                With no little excitement, I didn’t hesitate to seek out the website as soon as possible. Getting a group together to create art is something to be supported, especially if they have a clear approach, i.e. to brighten things up, to stir up photography circles in Thailand  - to liven things up. There is every reason to encourage [these new groups].

                Altogether, I’m not disappointed, seeing their signature skills and their efforts to create interesting new points of view in images of very ordinary, normal events from daily life along the roadside – things which most people overlook, thinking such things are quite banal.  We are so used to such sights that we become numb to what we see.  But this new generation of street photographers can turn these things into moments which are exciting, intellectually stimulating, and funny in very provocative ways.

                Speaking of street photography, or photos taken along the roadside, it’s an old approach.  The term, some have said, likely comes from the street photographers who made their living being hired to take pictures of people on the street, for example, pictures for ID cards, or full shots of people standing in front of painted backdrops, or souvenir pictures taken in front of actual places.


                In the first period, the photography was not particularly advanced.  The cameras were big, heavy, and clumsy to use.  The film used heavy panes of glass which broke easily if not handled with special care.  But there were nonetheless quite a few photographers in the early days.  They didn’t let these things stand in their way and went on recording the lives of people in the street.  When cameras became smaller, using rolls of film which could easily be carried about more conveniently, picture-taking along the roadside really progressed and diversified.  Now comes the digital age and this kind of work has really multiplied.


                I would rather not mention the names of the legendary white street photographers who do this kind of work (because you can easily google them for yourself).  The names of those in the history of Thai photography who belong in this come quickly come to mind.  The first is Luang Anusarnsoontorn (1867 – 1904), Chiengmai’s first professional photographer, who worked during the reign of the 5th King. He photographed a line of young women in Lamphoon on their way to market, carrying baskets of goods for sale in a pole across their shoulders.  The notable thing about the picture is that some of the women are bare-breasted and some have covered their breasts.  The photo clearly records the way of life in those times past.

             After clicking to take a look at the work of the  www.streetphotothailand.com group, you can get a feeling for some of the essential characteristics of the group.

                For example, first, the photos are taken in public spaces along roads or beaches, public parks and department stores, but not in private spaces like homes or studios.


                Second, there is no posing of subjects, no pretending, or acting out for the photo.  So every picture comes out naturally.  There is no touching up or setting up at all.


                Thirdly, the photographer relies on the ‘decisive moment’, the famous phrase of Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908 -2004), one of the world’s master street photographers.  The photographer’s quick and timely decision is vital. The expert click of the shutter for a picture in which everything falls perfectly into place: the image reveals itself to the camera for only a fraction of a second.   Missing that vital moment means losing the picture.  Then, even if you snap it, it’s incomplete.  The image becomes second or third rate.  So the skillful photographer must have the wit, the decisive alertness and the attention, the correct anticipation, and the practiced rhythm to click the shutter at the critical moment.

                 Capturing the picture or stopping it with the camera in just the decisive moment is the charm [of this approach], the essential and distinctive selling point, which other media can't match.
                 Fourth, the pictures are humorous at many different levels, from simply raising a knowing or sympathetic smile to actually provoking laughter outright.  And some are bitterly funny in a sad way.

                One formula or the trick of getting humor in their pictures is to ‘wait’ in the presence of the pictorial elements – the line, color, form, etc.  And another depends on the idea that ‘photographs lie’ by means of the positioning of things or people in photos.  Relations can be overlapped, creating something new and misleading.  

                Another approach is to choose a situation in which there is a conflict in the scene.  For example, using photographs, posters or one of the huge advertisements se meet along roadsides or in front of department stores etc.  These images become an element in the new photograph, from a new perspective, standing in to represent dreams or the world of imagination.  The photographer just waits for the right people to step into the scene.  Their manners and behaviors mock the commercial window displays or giant advertising posters.  Well-dressed mannequins can be another choice in other situations. The photographer watches for passers-by to do something funny while standing in the presence of a fashionable dummy.

                From one point of view, taking photographs this way may sound very much like doing ‘ready-mades’.  But these street photos made me think that today’s advanced photo developing  technology allows us to have advertising photos to sell dreams, to sell incredibly large-scale goods – which we never had before.  Then there arises a state in which the “real world overlaps with dream worlds, overlapping with the real world’ until they become virtually inseparable. You can’t get away from it.

                Many who have seen this website may have misunderstood it, thinking that these roadside images must always be amusing, like the work of these seven.  But it’s not always the case.  If you read the history of this genre, some groups and some individuals are very serious in these black and white pictures. The New York School, for example (1950 – 1970).  Just that this group of Thai ‘street photographers’ prefer [subjects and situations] that are amusing and which are charming for their work.

                The picture /Photo/100/ entitled ‘Two Worlds’, by Chatchai Boonyaproapas,  which pictures a young man in a red, sweat-soaked polo shirt.  Looking tired, he stands with arms akimbo.  His glance drifts upward.  In front of him is a young woman wearing a black, long-sleeved blouse.  Her face looks quite disgusted and full of resentment.  Both are waiting for the skytrain.  The background shows a poster advertising ways to increase redness.  The picture shows a young couple embracing one another with joy.  Anyone who sees this picture will have to suppress a smile, because in the real world, young men and women (whether or not they come together, or were by chance just happened to be standing there).  They look sad, not sweet like the young couple in the advertising poster.

                In Photo/250, an untitled work by Winai Ditsajorn, we see two pictures overlapping.  The image on top is an advertisement.  You see five young men and women, bright and good-looking, made up and hair styled, smartly dressed and fashionably hated.  While the image below them shows real people, red shirt protesters, their faces worn and ravaged with the years, coarse and weathered.  Their faces look worried and troubled.  Since all of them wear red T-shirts, the title of the photo just had to be ‘Class Fashion.’

                /Photo/20, ‘Mirror’, by Akra Nakthamna, invites us to wonder at a news photo of an athlete leaping over an obstacle, and falling head-first into a pool of water.  His two legs stretch skyward.  By chance, there are two bare white legs of someone looking at a picture on the other side of the display panel -  a young woman wearing shorts.  /Photo/74 by Narupol Nikomrat focuses on a young likay actor in an advertisement at a bus-stop.  He shouts playfully at a young woman who is sitting there waiting for her bus.  

  And in the picture,                          
/Photo/49/, ‘E.T. Drives Home’,
by Nopadol Wirakitti, the charm     
comes from the camera angle which makes the viewer think that E.T., the extra-terrestrial, is driving a purple Volkswagen beetle.


  There is another work by Wisit Kulsiri entitled ‘Hardcore Noodle,’ in black and white picturing people eating stir-fried noodles [and noodle soup] at roadside eateries.   


                 The photographer is fairly close and using a wide angle lens to focus on the  posture of the diner.  

 The background and setting remain in the dark.  He chooses the moment at which to snap
  the picture when the noodles are just being lodged into his mouth.  One can just hear that sound of the noodles being sucked up and worried there will be some mess splattering here and there.  Looking over this lightly, one finds it amusing – it shows how uninspiring and banal things can get.  Some people might think that the photographer is mocking or ridiculing the people who live along the road.  Being more open-minded, I think the photographer wanted to give us something: look and be liberated! Look! This is humanity!
                Mankind in search of happiness…eat…defecate…have sex…sleep.
               

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