4 Thai Photographers You Need To Know About
Nat Prakobsantisuk discovered his true calling behind the lens after having already spent eight years in the fashion industry as a stylist. “I remember feeling very unfulfilled and decided I needed to learn a new skill. Having worked around photographers, seen how they operate, I decided to take a photography course in London for a year. I had no problem with the aesthetical side of photography, conceptualising shots and so on, but I was clueless about the mechanics of it, so learning about lenses, exposure times, colour effects, even how to develop images in a dark room, these were big challenges,” he says.
He can still recall the first time he had his photos developed. “When I got the first batch I was so disappointed with the images I couldn’t sleep or eat. I kept wondering what I’d done wrong. Then a few days later I got a second set of pictures developed and they were exactly what I wanted. I think that’s when my love for photography really began to take shape. It was very satisfying to be able to convey what was in my mind through photography.”
While he balks at categorising or giving a label to his style of work, Nat says he approaches photography pretty much the same way he approaches life—“with my imagination running and a sense of adventure. I love reading and just as when I’m into a good book, when I am taking photos I’m having an adventure in my mind’s eye complete with protagonists and antagonists. We’re in a people business. Sure, we have to make clothes—whatever the product—look good, but we also have to keep the end-user in mind, to convey the required message through imaginative images, pictures that challenge perspectives and attitudes and so on. That’s why I read a lot. I want to know more about the world and to somehow imbue my images with that knowledge. Good photography is so much more than simply producing pretty pictures.”
Photographed by Nat Prakobsantisuk: Vatanika, A Woman Ahead Of Her Time
In fact, Nat has always been quite the bookworm and a keen traveller who loves experiencing different cultures. So much so that he and his sister, accomplished writer Sivika, recently opened World at the Corner together, a bookshop inspired by their travels and a space they hope will become a gateway for readers to other worlds. “When I’m not on a photography commission the bookshop is my sanctuary,” says Nat. “I am very happy being among books and can see myself settling to running World at the Corner in my retirement,” he laughs. Before that, though he plans to branch out from fashion photography in his spare time. “I will continue to travel a lot because I want to take photos that reflect the realities of life, images that capture poverty, cultural traditions, the environment, the colours of a city and so on.”
And his advice for aspiring fashion photographers? “Run a tight set. One of my pet peeves is having people hanging around the set with nothing to do. It isn’t a playground, it is a place of work,” he laughs, but then adds in a more serious tone, “Also, don’t underestimate others and don’t overestimate yourself.”
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Long before he became the well-known fashion photographer that he is today, Punsiri Siriwetchapun was obsessed with taking pictures. “I am lucky in that I knew from quite a young age that I wanted to work with a camera,” he says. “And I am ever grateful that I have been able to make a career from it.”
It has been more than two decades since he started taking pictures in a professional capacity and yet he says he enjoys the world of fashion photography as much as he did in the beginning, although the San Francisco Academy of Arts graduate prefers to call himself an image-maker. “I think my photographic style changes all the time,” he says. “What has remained the same is that I always try to push boundaries, to take the concept and resulting images as far as they can go.”
In terms of inspiration, the styles of the1970s and 80s have influenced him. “Probably because those were my formative years, which always leave a big impression. But many things in everyday life influence and inspire me—movies, listening to music, travelling, learning about history—these are all things that inform me when I’m contemplating how to build an image,” he explains. He’s a big fan of the late Irving Penn, the American photographer known for his fashion photography, portraits and still life work. “That said, if I could have dinner with anyone dead or alive, it would have to be German-Australian photographer Helmut Newton. He died in 2004 but his provocative, erotically-charged images in black and white for Vogue and other magazines will inspire for years to come,” he smiles.
In terms of the challenges of being a photographer Punsiri recalls his early days in the business. “It was tough,” he says. “The latest generation of photographers have all the advantages of digital technology, which barely existed in the industry when I started out. Today it looks effortless but when I was young and still trying to perfect my craft, I had a solo assignment in Paris once. I didn’t have an assistant so I had to carry everything myself, the camera and all lighting equipment around town on my own. It was exhausting I can tell you,” he chuckles.
When it comes to methodology in photography Punsiri believes communication is key. “Anyone can take pictures,” he says. “But for me, it’s not just about capturing a moment. It is essential to be able to communicate your message, the concept and back story to the viewer.” Such wisdoms come with experience and as he has aged the photographer has come to terms with the opposites in his life. “I mean, here I am taking pictures of beautiful people, often scantily clad, but in my private life I have become very into Dharma practice and meditation.” His most recent works have involved photographing abstract figures, reflecting meditation and the kind of peace of mind and soul that comes with it. “I know its funny that I am passionate about two such contradicting things,” he says.
One of Thailand’s top fashion photographers, Tada Varich is known for his funky, artistically provocative shots, which regularly grace the pages of leading local fashion magazines such as Vogue and GQ. As a youngster though he admits he had no idea what he really wanted to do in life. “I was always into art and I liked to paint before I went to university. That led to an interest in graphic design, which progressed to photography. I had a choice between the two mediums and was unsure which to follow. In the end, because I’m a bit lazy by nature, I figured photography was a form of art where you could get good results simply with the well-timed click of a button,” he laughs.
In his nascent career, Tada was inspired by the likes of German fine art and fashion photographer Juergen Teller. “But I have to say, there’s something about people’s work before they become famous that I find very powerful and alluring. I think that is the period when photographers—artists in general—are really free to give of themselves, to express their creativity unfettered by commercial constraints. It is something I can relate to because in my professional work I am often governed by a client brief—I have to remind myself that I’m not necessarily taking the shots I want, rather I’m producing images as required by an employer.”
He describes his style as unpredictable and compares being behind the lens to being in a form of psychological warfare with a camera as a weapon. “Sometimes you really have to wrestle with a brief and it can take ages to get a shot right. Ultimately though, I think to be a good photographer boils down to being an honest person. If you cannot be honest with yourself, you will always be flawed as an artist,” he says.
The 44-year-old has been in the fashion photography business for over two decades and is well qualified to have opinions on it. “Personally, I think the whole visual arts scene here is a bit of mess. We seem to be obsessed with sexuality and body image and subsequently I think the line between what is sexy—or clever—and what is simply crass has become blurred. Social media and the cult of celebrity have contributed hugely to this. We all want to be loved and followed and if posting risqué images of ourselves helps to achieve that, well okay. In that sense we’re our own worst enemy—we hear a great deal about the evils of sexual objectification nowadays, but then we’re so very adept at objectifying ourselves.”
When he isn’t working a commission, Tada enjoys capturing images of just about everything around him. “And no, contrary to popular belief, a photographer does not need to be constantly carrying a camera,” he says. “I’m just fine with my iPhone. It’s light and practical and takes perfectly good pictures.”
A graduate of Bangkok Technical College, Wasan Puengprasert began his career in photography in his early 20s and took on all kinds of jobs before focussing on fashion. “Actually, it took around six years before I became what you would call a fashion photographer,” he smiles. “But I’ve always had a thing for taking photos of people, particularly portraits.”
Like Punsiri, Wasan cites a number of influential photographers, including the late, great Irving Penn. Which helps to explain that while his fashion images are mainly worked in full colour, he is nevertheless particularly fond of black and white imagery. “When I take photos for myself, in other words, photos that are not client-driven, I actually prefer them in black and white,” he says. Which begs the question, just how much does a photographer put of himself into his work against what is demanded of him by the client? “It can be tricky but you must remember that we all see the same thing slightly differently. There is room to personalise your imagery while meeting the expectations of the client. This is why, truth be told, I still feel a bit nervous at the start of each photoshoot.”
As with our other interviewees, Wasan was trained in old school photographic techniques, including the development arts of the darkroom. Indulging his interest in classic imagery he has spent a lot of time studying photographs dating from the early 1900s and the infancy of photography itself. “There’s something very alluring about pictures from those days—the use of light and the way the subjects were made to look so glamorous always amazes me,” he says. “What I wouldn’t give to be able to photograph Swedish-American Hollywood star Greta Garbo back then.”
Despite this love for period photography, Wasan admits that the evolution of photographic equipment and the advent of the digitalised world have made his work much easier. In fact, he is also one of those travellers who are content using nothing but a phone to snap pictures when out and about—he even carries special add-on lenses to fit on his phone. “Then again, if I’m travelling for leisure I don’t actually take that many pictures,” he laughs, adding, “photographers need a break too you know. I really prefer to keep my head up and my eyes open so I can take in the scenery and everything that’s going on around me. It is very different to trying to frame a shot in a studio.”
In addition to snapping high fashion, Wasan also lectures at Silpakorn University. Something he continually tries to instil in his students is that they should never stop trying to improve. “It is very important to have this thirst to learn and discover new things all the time,” he explains. “You must be inquisitive. Look, ask questions, try new experiences. Maybe along the way you will discover more about who you really are. And your photographic skills will certainly benefit. I also tell students to maintain respect. If there’s one thing I can’t stand, it is disrespect,” he says. “Being friendly and polite costs nothing and it makes the work smoother for everyone involved.”
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