Photography group launches black and white exhibition in Phuket Old Town

Posted on May 1, 2013

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A Phuket-based analogue camera group, which started with just two members, but developed into one of the largest communities of black and white photographers in Thailand, opened its first ever exhibition today (May 1) in Phuket Town.

The Phuket Dark Room’s (PDR) ‘World in Grey’ exhibition at the Chalermraja Cultural Centre (the old Standard Chartered Bank on the corner of Phang Nga and Phuket Roads) is the first time the group of around 15 active members have displayed their works in public.

For one member, Somkiat Suwannakarn, the two-week long exhibition, which runs from May 1 to May 14, is not only an opportunity to show his own black and white photos to the general public, but also those taken by his father and daughter.

“My father took many great photos during the historic visit of the King and Queen to Phuket in 1959. They’re on display. He still has all of the negatives, which I used to make copies for this particular exhibition,” says Mr Somkiat.

Other photos depict Phuket life circa 1960, while many show Mr Somkiat’s family; his sister on the way to school, and his mother in the family jewellery shop, the Sin Yoo Chang Jewellery shop that still stands in Thalang. There is even a photo of a young shorts-wearing Mr Somkiat.

Following in her father’s footsteps, Mr Somkiat’s 18-year-old daughter also takes black and white photos, developed using dark room methods, with some of her work also on display.

One of the original founders of the PDR, Achirawit Churmung, explains the necessity of using the traditional dark room method of producing photos in order to create genuine black and white pictures.

“All of our work is finished in dark rooms – this is incredibly important, many people use analogue cameras and then just print them out, but that’s only 70 per cent of the process.”

The majority of the group’s pictures are developed at the PDR shop in Phuket Town located on Maeluan Road, Soi Pohgui (behind the Tamaling coffee shop).

This also serves as the location for members to meet around once a week and discuss black and white photograph related issues.

The group also put on regular free training sessions for anybody who wants to learn more about the art – as for many of its members this is exactly what the traditional developing of photos has turned into.

Lecturer in photography studies at Prince of Songkhla University, Somchai Yimpat is one such photography enthusiast working at keeping the dark room alive.

Mr Somchai says, “The PDR group mainly wants to keep the old style [of photography] going. All of the 120 photos currently on display are developed using the traditional dark room method.”

He admits he takes photos using both a modern digital camera as well as an old analogue camera, but much prefers using the latter.

“Film gives a greater depth than digital. It makes the colours more separated and deep.”

Mr Achirawit agrees that taking and developing photos in black and white adds “an X to the mathematical equation.

“Not everything is beautiful with black and white. For example with a beautiful clear day and shining blue sky, colour is better, but I think when it’s raining black and white is better,” says Mr Achirawit.

Finding the ‘emotion’ is paramount and it takes time. As such a level of patience is required that is often missing in the modern rapid-fire approach of shoot-first, check-later style of photography.

“Finding that perfect moment, you just have to take time,” says Mr Achirawit.

“With digital photos you can take hundreds of photos, but with film, maybe you can just produce one in a day, and you can’t look at it in the viewfinder, so you have to wait for that perfect moment. It takes a lot more thinking.”

So what does he see as the main difference between digital and film?

“It’s easy – it’s the difference between sex and love,” he says.

The photos on display at the centre range in subject matter from snapshots of old Phuket life, to natural scenery to one curious photo of a young man with his hand on a pistol in his waistband.

Mr Achirawit explains the decision to display such a variety of images, “There’s no particular theme, this exhibition is about welcoming people and letting them know that we are here.”

Unfortunately, for Mr Achirawit at least, the PDR will only be ‘there’ at the Chalermraja Cultural Centre for the next two weeks, as the venue will revert back to its main role as the Baba museum.

This is something that he sees as unfortunate, “There needs to be something permanent like this for the arts in Phuket. They [Phuket’s Baba and Peranakan community] already have a Baba museum and a section at Thaihua museum, but I think somewhere for the arts would be good for foreigners and locals.

“There could be a variety of monthly exhibitions showing arts, photography and so on.”

If you love black and white photography or photography in general, make sure you visit ‘World in Grey’: Analogue Photography Show, which runs until May 14.

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Posted in: Phuket