Perception changes everything. A photography exhibition opening next month in Bangkok strives to make that point as well as some other salient ones about the lives of the city’s manual laborers.
In a series of high-definition photos taken from above, Thammarong Vannitthikul’s powerful series 8am shows vendors, construction workers, farmers, and more on their way to work via the beds of pickup trucks in the morning.
While we may catch a glimpse of these trucks on the expressway, often overpacked with both supplies and napping workers en route to job sites, Thammarong allows us to hone in on the details via his lens.
In the pictures, we see workers crammed together, or sometimes sprawled out, in the beds of trucks. We see unfathomable numbers of people in small spaces, sometimes wrapped around market baskets, agricultural equipment, and construction tools with their hard hats piled around them.
The shots were taken from the same overpass in Bangkok’s Samrong area at around 8am on many mornings in 2017. The artist, whose first solo exhibition it is, noticed the view from the overpass where he walked to his own job everyday and began bringing his camera along to shoot from the vantage point, focusing on the trucks since there was the most to see in them.
He didn’t notice at first but soon realized he was shooting the same vehicles everyday, although the configuration of workers and equipment often changed. What tipped him off was looking at his own shots and seeing certain small elements that remained — a green crate in the corner every day or the same black toolbox. That prompted him to reframe the single panes into larger works that allow the viewer to easily see how the same vehicle’s load varied.
The artist has said that, as he began noticing the patterns, he saw a larger theme emerge. “The blue basket that never changes even as different workmen surround it, represents the poor man’s constant anxiety whether he has made enough to sustain his life. “
It was the changes within the trucks that attracted Kathmandu’s curator — and one of Thailand’s most recognizable contemporary artists himself — Manit Sriwanichpoom. He said, on the gallery’s site, “It’s unbelievable that the photographer managed to capture the same truck almost every morning. Some days, the men who are normally there are missing, probably on leave or fired from their jobs — it sets us conjecturing endlessly.”
“8 am” by Thammarong Vannitthikul
Kathmandu Photo Gallery
Jan. 12-Feb. 23 (Opening Jan. 12, 6:30-9pm)