Disrobing Ghosts

Photos: Akkara Naktamna

Software engineer by profession and photographer by passion, Akkara Naktamna is best known for his street photography. The co-founder of Street Photo Thailand and proud dad has taught himself how to take pictures and was selected a finalist in international competitions such as Miami Street Photography Festival 2013, Singapore Photo Festival 2016 and Photo Bangkok Festival 2015-2018. He also founded e-magazine "CTypeMag" in 2016 to promote interesting photo series from the unknown photographers around the globe. Akkara is having his solo exhibition titled "Demonic" to satire the unsavoury sides of monkhood in Thailand. It runs until Aug 31 at Kathmandu Photo Gallery. We talked to him about his photographic journey and his need to disrobe fake monks.

What inspired you to take up photography?

Two things. Pecker [a 1998 film directed by John Waters] and photo books by Elliott Erwitt. Pecker is about an amateur photographer who lives in Baltimore and takes street photography. I find street photography interesting for the first time from the movie but I didn't become serious with it right away. Years later, I came across a photo book by Erwitt. In one black and white picture, a bulldog is sitting on its owner's legs and its face covers the owner's face. It inspired me to take street photography seriously since then.

You're known for street photography? What do you find fascinating about it?

Street photography can produce amusing pictures. It allows you to be creative and see things from different angles. In my opinion, it's like reading a satire comic book. It's not only fun but sometimes also comments on things in society. Also, street photography is easy to produce but it's difficult to make it good and interesting. It becomes even more difficult because there are so many street photographers who create new work all the time because they can just go out and shoot. It's very challenging for street photographers to produce something new and capture some kind of contemporary message in one shot.

From looking through your portfolio, is it fair to say that you've become more conceptual in your approach to photography? If yes, what inspired this change?

Yes. It's probably because I want to experiment more with my works. When I looked at my own street works and that of others I found similarities in them. I thought 'how could I differentiate myself from other photographers?' And my answer is to not only capturing random or funny moments in life but to search for something deeper and different through my lens. I pay attention to what goes on in the society so adding more thought into my photography seems like a natural next step for me and it has been like that in recent years.

How did your latest exhibition, Demonic. come about?

I followed the news about Luang Pu Nen Kham, who infamously used brand-name bags and flew in a private jet, and the story about a famous temple that is infamous for using marketing in its donation scheme for many years. My first reaction to this kind of story is to be let down or betrayed so I would like to express these stories through the art of photography. The basis of this exhibition is my notion that ghosts today have taken a new form. They no longer stick their tongues out or bulge their eyes. They cloak themselves with the saffron robe to fool us. In my opinion, it's scarier than when they appear outwardly as ghosts.

Are you a strong believer in Buddhism?

I'm lax in a sense that I don't walk around the convocation hall in a circle on Buddhist holidays. I don't chant. I don't do the usual activities associated with being Buddhists but I visit temples and prostrate before Buddha images. I believe in the logic and reasoning side of Buddhism. I abide by dhamma, which I find it to be teaching that's scientific and open-minded. I admire several renowned monks such as Buddhadasa Bhikkhu, P.A. Payutto, Luang Por Chah and Phra Phaisan Visalo. I abide by their teachings especially the concept of ego by Buddhadasa Bhikkhu. It's so simple and straightforward, echoing the Buddhist concept of 'not holding on to anything'.

Are you prepared for any backlash or criticism that your exhibition may cause?

It did cross my mind but I believe that if you look at my work with sati [mindfulness] you should be able to tell the idea I would like to present. You may also realise that what I capture in these staged pictures is pale in comparison to what actually goes on out there. We ought to be careful to not be fooled by these 'ghosts'.

Any messages for those who may be interested in checking out Demonic?

You may already have seen some pictures that were teased online but there are more waiting for you at the exhibition. I would like you to come see them for yourself and look at them with sati.

What's next for you?

I'm planning to create a zine based on this exhibition. It should come out within this year. Follow my progress at my photography Facebook page (fb.com/akkaraphotography).