Spirits of ‘misunderstood’ Khlong Toei shown through lens

A retired muay Thai fighter poses at a market in Khlong Toei. Photo: Tim Russell / Courtesy
A retired muay Thai fighter poses at a market in Khlong Toei. Photo: Tim Russell / Courtesy

The hopes, dreams, and spirits of some of Bangkok’s poorest residents will come to life at an exhibition by a British photographer.

Faces of Khlongtoey will show 45 images captured over seven years in the Khlong Toei slums by Tim Russell. Russel said the neighborhood, a popular destination for photographers looking to capture Bangkok’s true grit, is one of the capital’s “most misunderstood districts.”

“I’d heard so many scary stories about Khlong Toei and so many people told me it was dangerous that I just had to see for myself,” Russell told Coconuts.

He said that his first visit to the area was in 2015, when he was pleasantly surprised by the warm welcome he experienced and the ease of photographing residents. He has since been back well over 100 times and created a huge archive of photographs – 45 of which will be shown at the exhibition. 

While many Bangkokians perceive Khlong Toei as a no-go area, Russell’s portraits show a friendly, robust and vibrant community sharing the same hopes, dreams, and ambitions as the city’s other residents. The exhibition is a “tribute to their spirits,” Russell said. 

Photo: Tim Russell / Courtesy

Asked about his favorites, Russell referred to The Boxer, which shows an elderly former retired muay Thai fighter posing with his fists up, and another image of a young tattooed father and his daughter. 

“He was being a bit of a lad posing for the camera but when his daughter came out and he picked her up, his whole attitude and expression softened for a few seconds which is when I photographed them,” Russell said. “My wife absolutely loved it and told me I should be sharing it, and everyone else loved it too. In fact it was the response to that image that made me start sharing my work in public a lot more and getting it published which, I guess, led to this exhibition.”

Photo: Tim Russell / Courtesy

Faces of Khlongtoey will run Feb. 3 through Feb. 25 at 6060 Art Space. The  gallery is located in Soi Pradiphat 21, just a few minutes on foot from BTS Saphan Kwai. 

Russell will be at the Feb. 3 opening to discuss his photos. 

Russell said all profits from prints and books sold at the exhibition will go to community aid organization Bangkok Community Help Foundation.

Photo: Tim Russell / Courtesy

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