Unveiling the spirit world

Charnpichit Pongtongsumran shows a man his images. Photos courtesy of Charnpichit Pongtongsumran

Documentary art photographer Charnpichit Pongtongsumran's latest venture titled "Sak-Kalai". It underlines the spirit of tattoos in the land of Siam, capturing some of the most obsolete tattoos on men aged 86-109.

Exhibited at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre from April 14-26, the versatile Charnpichit brings to the audience a mesmerising cornucopia of awe-inspiring artistic talent.

His photos speak a thousand words, with dim background lighting and bent-forward postures of the tattooed senior citizens adding a touch of history. The men portrayed in the photos hail from the northeastern region of Thailand. Their tattoos, many covering their entire backs, hands, arms and legs, shed light on the artistry found in that part of the region back in the good old days.

"It took me five years to document this series. At the beginning, people told me that the type of tattoo art I was looking for could not be found because the people who had it very likely had already died. I was over the moon when I was able to find them. I would say they are possibly representatives of the last generation to possess these wonderful tattoos. Just their posture speaks volumes on how ancient their tattoos are," the artist said.

The Sak-Kalai exhibition is a form of gratitude to these elderly gentlemen, Charnpichit said. "They possess an artistic genre that is part of history, which we as Thais can be very proud of," he said.

"This type of body art is valuable and powerful. I am confident that the audience will appreciate the spirit of Sak-Kalai, the art, which was created in our own land… Thailand."

In the course of documenting his findings, Charnpichit said he especially found the distinction of patterns, although fading in many instances due to the change of skin pigmentation as the men aged, offering a more alluring and mystical appeal to it.

"I decided to present this exhibition explicitly in black-and-white photography to reveal the intricate patterns that in a manner capture the identities of these grand old men."

A photo by Charnpichit Pongtongsumran. courtesy of Charnpichit Pongtongsumran

Additional information can be found at bacc.or.th.