Thursday, 22 January 2009

Bangkok, Thailand

There are many ways of getting to know a city. Or, to be a bit more precise, to experience some parts of a city, especially a city of the size of Bangkok, for instance. The German Wikipedia speaks of a population of 6,859 millions (2006), a presumably more accurate number provides the English Wikipedia: "... approximately 8,160,522 registered residents (July 2007), but due to large unregistered influxes of migrants from the North East of Thailand and of many nations across Asia, the population of greater Bangkok is estimated at nearly 15 million people."

Although I spent - from 1988 to 1998 - many months in Bangkok, and explored many parts of the city, the only area that I'm somewhat familiar with is the lower Sukhumvit. Given all the changes that have meanwhile taken place (I was last there in 2007), I'm however not really sure that I would still recognise "my Bangkok".

Recently, I came across two photo books that I thought would refresh my memory: Thailand. Same same but different by Thomas Kalak, and Bangkok by Peter Nitsch. Both were published by Rupa Publishing in Munich.

The photos in Thailand. Same same but different, despite the book title, were, according to the preface, all taken in "Bangkok's streets and backyards" and they do give indeed, as Remo Masala states, "the impression of sculptures and installations". Not all of them, no, but quite some. Thomas Kalak has a good eye for the odd and sometimes bizarre: several big green umbrellas, assisted by a much smaller one in violet and gold, for instance, that cover the entrance of a drugstore against the rain and/or the sun is a wonderful find as is the sign in the shape of a tooth that indicates a dental clinic. And, there are many more. Needless to say, most visitors to Bangkok come across such sights but give them hardly more than a passing look, Thomas Kalak however collected them. Are these shots worth a book? No idea, really, but I thought it an interesting project.

Bangkok by Peter Nitsch is a very different kind of book although the two tomes have one thing in common: both come with an accompanying text by Jochen Müssig that has nothing to do with the photos. To be fair: the last paragraph of Bangkok (the text as a whole provides interesting infos) attempts to link the words to the photos but does it so cliché-ridden ... "he captures brief, unique moments" (well, moments are by definition brief, and they are also by definition unique) ... that I could have easily done without them.

So what about the photos? Some I thought excellent - the woman on her knees handing over food to the monks whose heads are invisible (but why call this shot "Lumphini Park"? A thoroughly superfluous information), the elegantly composed shots of the Marble Temple at Wat Benchamabophit, and of Wat Phra Kaeo, for instance; others were not exactly to my liking - the book cover in particular, a brightly lit skytrain station with even more brightly lit streets below (an over-use of photoshop, it seems) that could be just about anywhere. There were however also some that I would love to put under glass, and into a frame, and hang them on my wall. The shot from Soi Thong Lo that shows a casually dressed young woman going in one direction and an elegantly dressed young woman on the moving stairway above going in the other, or the black and white composition of a building front with a man looking down from one of the upper floors, or the look of the young man on the red bus on Thanon Ratchawithi. Very well captured moments, I'd say.

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