Fracturing the candid camera

New exhibition highlights the talent of street photographers bending the spectrum of reality with their lenses

They take photos with quirky names _ Mutant, Crashes, Urban Animals _ their subjects are captured on the dynamic streets of Bangkok. The content is about the authentic; a cheeky rendering of ironic charm and playful moments in a vibrant city.

A group of 11 well-respected photo-graphers, a mix of full-time professionals and experienced amateurs, spent years taking photos of Bangkok street life. They will showcase them in an exhibition _ Unposed Bangkok _ opening at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre on Tuesday.

The contrast of the subjects and their surroundings is what lends a playful irony to the photographs _ they are captured during candid moments by imaginative photographers.

In one, a man quietly squats on the ground filling a giant blue plastic bag while riot police with Perspex shields hold the line behind him.

Noppadol Weerakitti, the founder of www.streetphotothailand.com _ the only website in Thailand dedicated to street photography _ believes the genre is catching on.

''When I established the website in 2008, there were over a thousand members posting more than 5,000 photos,'' he says. ''But 80% of those were not exactly street photographs. Now it's different. I think we've got a better understanding of this style. I hope this exhibition will encourage the art's popularity and steer it in the right direction.''

Chatchai Boonyaprapatsara, the exhi-bition's key coordinator and one of the photographers whose work will on show in Unposed Bangkok, says he found the website by chance and started to gather images with them. ''We formed a group to work on this exhibition. Hopefully our work will collectively help shape street photography in Thailand by merging the pioneers' art pieces with the younger generation's spontaneous images.'' Last year, he organised the Kathmandu Photo Gallery showcase of street photography by Manit Sriwanichpoom.

Facebook also comes in handy when putting together photo exhibitions. Its Street Photography Thailand fanpage introduces the artists' work to the mainstream through social media, says Akkara Naktamna, the website's manager and Unposed Bangkok artist. ''It [our fanpage] is looking good. We have both amateurs and professionals posting photos. Many of them are quite interesting. I like the idea of having a social network. It's an open space opening our minds and perspectives.''

Akkara is the youngest photographer who will exhibit at Unposed Bangkok; he holds a day job as a software engineer. He won the Special Mention Award from the IPA Street Photography Asia Award 2013, for two striking photos of human illusions. One is of a man's head and torso blending into a colourful modern art piece; the other is of a shop worker unintentionally looking like he's having sex with a mannequin while trying to change its clothes. Both will be displayed in the upcoming exhibition.

Says Akkara: ''I like to photograph passers-by on the streets with billboards or posters as backgrounds to create ironic situations. Sometimes it can be about plain humour but at times it is quite surreal. Everything and every person around us has their own story, but we just don't bother to take a second look. But once you do, you'll find that what appears to be normal often has a unique story of its own, waiting for us to discover it and sometimes laugh along with it.''

Street photography is taken as a casual memoir of daily life and at the heart of the art is capturing moments at their most candid. Content is what matters. Noppadol likes to delve into the world of the ordinary. ''It's how the commoners tell their own story. It's a bit historical as well. For example, Thai people, poor or rich, buy food and eat on the street. It's a part of our culture of living.''

STREET STYLE: Noppadol Weerakitti, founder of www.streetphotothailand.com. Top, ‘Lost in (Thai) Colour Space’, one of his photos to be shown at Unposed Bangkok.

Multi-award winning photojournalist Vinai Dithajohn also holds street photography in high regard. Like his peers, he hardly ever leaves his house without a camera. He says there's always something and someone waiting for him to capture _ and he doesn't want to miss the chance.

''I give myself the never-ending challenge of being on the streets of Bangkok. I search and choose the right moment to click the shutter. The photos that I take must be special and extraordinary. I want them to be more than just a report. They must be interesting, unique as well as sarcastic and thought-provoking,'' says Vinai, whose work has been published in Time, International Herald Tribune, South China Morning Post and National Geographic.

Two of his showcase photos were taken in the middle of action during heated political situations. One is from last year when he was hired by EPA to cover the anti-government rally of the Pitak Siam group led by Gen Boonlert Kaewprasit, or Seh Ai, in November. It captures a refuse collector engrossed in filling a bag of rubbish just in front of the riot police line. ''Hope springs on his face but uncertainty shines through the eyes of armed men,'' says Vinai.

The other one is of two men dressed as Japanese superheroes receiving flowers from a yellow shirt supporter in a wheelchair, while a tank rolls by in the background during the 2006 coup. ''Don't you think it's bizarre people looked happy to see the soldiers doing what they did?'' he asks.

Though street photography tends to tell a story about people and peculiar incidents _ framed through a specific mood and tone _ it isn't necessary to have a person as the subject of the photograph. In several images that will be shown at Unposed Bangkok, objects are the subject in works by Manit, the exhibition's curator and guest photographer, whose solo shows include Bangkok in Pink at the Yokohama Museum of Art; Pink Man in Paradise at Monash University (Australia) and Valentine Willie Fine Arts (Kuala Lumpur); Repertoire of the Innermost at the Plum Blossom Gallery (Singapore) and Beijing Pink at the Highland Gallery.

For Unposed Bangkok, Manit will exhibit his series Mutant, a collection of photographs that reflect the phenomenon of change in Thailand's contemporary street culture. ''I don't know exactly when these odd species of freaky multi-coloured Christmas trees first sprouted around Rachaprasong intersection in the centre of Bangkok; it's just another strange fruit born from the Thai talent for adapting cultural imports suiting Thai tastes and predilections,'' he says.

''A closer look reveals these fake tree owners' names _ department stores in cooperation with credit card companies. Here's the real 'Santa Claus of the Age of Consumerism', collectors of fees and interest, old hands at turning tropical Bangkok into a cold European city _ so that, as they shop, many people may temporarily forget their reality,'' adds Manit.

In Noppadol's Lost in (Thai) Space, a photograph featuring an old doll of the movie character ET _ sitting in front of the wheel of a purple Volkswagen Beetle _ reflects the hopeless tendency of Thai people to blend in with an encroaching Westernisation, he says. ''We do drive imported cars and collect imported junk. The flashy colour of the car is the only thing in the photo that is so Thai. But if you pay attention to the details, the odd-looking doll inside the car looks lost and I feel that is how we are now _ in the wayward controversial society we cage ourselves in,'' says Noppadol.

Culture clash is the subject matter Chatchai likes to capture. ''It has to be candid, though,'' he says. ''I like words like 'coincident' and 'contrast'.'' The photographer, who left a lucrative desk job at an advertising agency to become a farmer, considers himself an observer of a rapidly changing Thai society. His photo series Crashes display a teenager with a quirky haircut of a Facebook ''Like'' thumbs-up shaved into the hair on the side of his head. The boy, ironically, stands in front of a sign warning passengers to mind their hands when the skytrain door closes. ''The hairstyle signifies his cry for freedom _ but after all he has to abide by the rules of society,'' Chatchai says, taking a long pause.

''It's reality bites, isn't it?''

Photographers: Akkara Naktamna, Chatchai Boonyaprapatsara, Naruepol Nikomrat, Noppadol Weerakitti, Piyatat Hemmatat, Vinai Dithajohn, Visit Kulsiri.
Guests: Rong Wongsawan, Surat Osathanugrah, Manit Sriwanichpoom, Dow Wasiksiri.
The exhibition opens at 6pm on Oct 1, and runs to Oct 27 at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre at the Pathumwan intersection. For more information, visit www.streetphotothailand.com.

A QUICK SNAP OF THAILAND'S STREET HISTORY

Manit Sriwanichpoom says the history of street photography in Thailand traces as far back as the era of King Rama IV, when Luang Akaneenaruemit (Francis Chit) took photos of everyday lives along the banks of Chao Phraya River. In the time of King Rama V, Luang Anusarnsunthorn (the forefather of the Nimmanheminda family) captured the famous image of a topless Northern Thai woman carrying a basket in the market.

Klong Ampawa, Samut Songkram, 1999 by Surat Osathanugrah

The late Rong Wongsawan, hailed as one of the country's most respected journalists and honoured as the National Artist in Literature in 1995, worked at Siam Rath as a reporter at the time and was also a documentary photographer. In 1958 he took the famous black-and-white photographic series 'Saphan Phut' and 'Slum Din Daeng' to convey an unusual perspective on people's lives. In 2002 the multi-talented businessman-turned-politician-turned-photographer Surat Osathanugrah had a solo exhibition _ Vanishing Bangkok _ which was a collection of black-and-white photographs that helped jump-startThailand's street photography scene.

Urban Animals, a photo series shot by Dao Wasiksiri, reflects the artist's quirky point of view that has become his signature since he decided to pursue street photography. He has been on the forefront of Thailand's street photography scene over the last decade.

Masterpieces by Rong, Surat, Dao and Manit will be on display during Unposed Bangkok.

PROVOKING THOUGHT: Photojournalist Vinai Dithajohn says his street photos must be ‘extraordinary’. Far right, ‘Superheroes’ and ‘Worlds Apart’, below are among 12 of his photos to be shown at Unposed Bangkok.

CLASH OF CULTURE: Chatchai Boonyaprapatsara, exhibition coordinator and Unposed Bangkok photographer, will present ‘Like’, left, and ‘Angel’, below, as part of his photo series Crashes.

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Writer: Kritini Upayokin
Position: Brunch Editor