A blog about food in Thailand
and elsewhere.

A work in progress

Posted date:  April 29, 2008

Anybody who reads this blog has undoubtedly noticed that I tend to spend a lot of time in Bangkok’s Chinatown. Other than being a bizarre and boisterous part of town with great food and interesting stuff to see, I’ve also been taking pics there with the intention of putting on an exhibition at Bangkok’s Kathmandu Photo Gallery early next year.

After countless visits, I’ve sat down with the results and have rounded them down to 22 images that I like (at least for now). I haven’t been shooting with a specific ‘theme’ in mind, but have been partially inspired by Khun Manit’s (the owner of Kathmandu, and a well known Thai photographer) comments that the early images I showed him seemed to depict the relationship that the residents of Chinatown have with their space–typically their lack of it and the way the deal with this. Some of the pics below are an effort to explore this theme, while others are simply interesting images. It’s a big blog entry, I know, but I’d appreciate if any of you could sit down for a few minutes, take look at the images and give me some feedback, in particular, which images you reckon I shouldn’t include, and why.

11 Comments for A work in progress

There are 3 Chinese opera (ngew) photos showing similar action (i.e. make-up application). If studio space is limited, I suggest you remove one or two of these photos from the collection. Definitely keep the middle photos – the single performer / light bulb on top right corner. I really like the color contrast in this one.

Yaowarat also has busy market alleys. In Chinese Teochiu dialect, it is call “sing tuckluck” and “lao tuckluck”…literally meaning “new market” and “old market”, respectively. The markets are full of fresh and cooked food and grocery stalls…very lively. Hope you can show some photos of these markets if available.

Hi Sophia. Thanks for the input. Yep, I’m aware there are three Chinese opera images. This is mostly due to the fact that I like all three of them… Perhaps once I’m more certain about the ‘theme’ of my images it will be easier to decide on one, but for now I’ll definitely keep the light bulb one in mind.

The markets also have the same name in Thai (talaat mai/talaat kao), and are really interesting places. I’m pretty sure there are images of these markets scattered throughout the blogs–do a search for the Thai names above and I’m sure you’ll find something.

you have a start of a strong series here. Most of those photos of the ngew performers, shop keepers, vendors give wonderful glimspe of the life in chinatown, and what makes it a unique ground.

photo no.3 fruit vendor, tells me the least about Chinatown and its own sense of place. It could have been any where in Thailand. Even though a few others like the dark shadow/yellow shirt one and the woman with the umbrella bare less visibly the “chinatown” details to them, they still do give me a lot of clues in terms of how people relate to the place.

If we were to scope these as a series of the people of Chinatown (both transients and dwellers) I would say then that the steamy tea pot one is a bit of an odd one out simply because the focus is on the pot.

Yaowarat has a very well-known gay-ball tournament every other Thursday that I think would offer another dynamic to the collection. I would also include some local wizards. I noticed there wasn’t one wizard pic in here and I found that a little weird. Keep up the good work!

As a photographer, you look through the “lens of the camera” seeing and “capturing” what you as a person see.

So too many of your subjects in this series parallel this daily act of looking and seeing …
looking in the mirror to see the performer sought
watching the hubbub as one eats as bowl of food
inspecting the watch mechanism
watching the potential food client
waiting for the entry of a shopper
seeking a inner vision
awaiting for someone behind the store counter, the barred entrance way

on and on,
most seem to seek passively or actively seeking something that visually will allow them the moment to “act”, the moment they await for in all its multiplicities
As a photographer you seek similar moments that balance or juaxtapose creatively the inner and outer signs of something you have seen. Maybe this series is about the participants of China town doing a similar searching/waiting for a particular sign that allows them to move onto a desired action. Maybe the series is about how creativity may not be a process, but a moment, the moment when we find that instance that allows to stop searching and begin something? How is waiting for a client and being exhausted similar to the photographic creativity? Is it in capturing the moment, is it in trying to entice a muse or client to come forth from the hubbub?

Not sure here, but the grouping seems to revolve around looking/seeking/attending/searching/ – in all its multiple phases. Is Chinatown a realm of arrested anticipation? Awaitng the passage of the rain and the moment of the sun? Is there a parallel to Buddha’s teaching in all these moments of seeking?
What does one find if they seek in Chinatown?

Maybe the “theme” that will allow you to choose which images to include is somewhere here: I think Buddhism teaches us that the way we see the world is flawed, that our anticipation is what sets us up for disappointments.

So then maybe this series is revolving around how we see our daily moments, reflected in mirrors, watched through TeeWee, awaiting sight of the next business prospect… We are a seeing being, and how we see often determines what we are able to see … how do we fill these moments of looking out into the world, are we part of it or is it part of us?

The creative act of photography can’t be forced, such as Buddhism teaches the momentous act of insight and understanding can’t be forced, but as in all our daily lives, we can set in motion events that will allow these moments to occur.
Chinatown in all its hubub and prolonged durations of waiting and surface veneers, reflect in many ways the buddhist tenants
of participating in life in manners that allow these precious moment of sincerity to occur.

so maybe the theme is how we see what we see.

And then again maybe there’s more then one theme here …

Very profound. I was definitely moved and almost swayed, but I’m going to have to stick to my guns on this one…wizards.

Thanks for all your input. I met with the owner of the gallery yesterday and he liked image 2 (guy eating curry), 3 (clock repair shop), 5 (rainy scene), 7 (chinese woman), 8 (man sleeping), 12 (teapot & prostitutes), 15 (disembodied head), 17 (sleeping on motorcycle), 20 (tvs) and 21(woman and tarps). He wasn’t too keen on any of the Chinese opera pics, suggesting that they’re images that we all have seen before. I’m pretty happy with these, and will end up adding a few more, as I think we’re going to exhibit 18.

We also talked about a central theme linking the images, and we both agree that these images seem to touch on peoples’ space, both public and private, in such a crowded area. He also mentioned the fact that Bangkok’s Chinatown is a pretty gritty , ‘real’ place, unlike most Chinatowns around the world that are largely spic-and-span tourist affairs, which I thought was interesting.

I know I’m coming in late…

The onces I’d nix would be the two with things coming out of people’s heads: the hawker with the green umbrella and the chinese man in the shop (do you have versions slightly to the left or the right?)

There’s only a few I’m not fond of but as they are the type that may look fantastic full size, no comment.

I admire so many, but my favourite is the kettle…

Wanna say something?