Tag Archives: thailand

Bright White Photo Shoot

Saturday saw the resumption of an ongoing project from the past few years – the still untitled “white skin” project.

In Thailand, the importance placed on appearance and the singular standard of beauty which defines that appearance is a demanding one which pushes many Thais to go to extraordinary lengths in order to live up to their peers’ expectations. While this is exemplified in numerous ways (false eyelashes and color contacts are the norm for women, while plastic surgery is common among both sexes for those who can afford it), the most exigent of these beauty standards, for both men and women, is the value placed on having light skin. While Thailand is not alone in this (indeed, in most of Asia fair skin is a prized quality) it does seem more egregious here than elsewhere, due largely to regional and ethnic differences that make already politically and economically disenfranchised groups further pushed to the margins of culture by a fair(er) skinned Bangkok elite. Add to this mix the white-skinned, economically dominant Chinese-Thai minority and the social effects of the Thai obsession with light skin are only further exacerbated. In Thailand, the value placed on fair skin isn’t only burdening people with an unattainable standard of beauty, but this standard is also used to socially reinforce an economic and power gap that already exists on ethnic and urban-rural lines. That is to say, we see a standard of beauty that validates the worth of the rich, the powerful, the urban, and pushes out the rural, the poor, the ethnic minority.

This project is a series of portraits of young Thai people of all shades of white, tan and brown, with their skin painted artificially white – the cultural ideal pushed to such an extreme that it becomes a mockery of itself.

As previously mentioned, this is a recently resumed work in progress. While one usually might be more selective about how much of one’s process is revealed publicly, with my dual role as an artist and arts educator, I think it’s appropriate to break orthodoxy so that my students might get to see some of the considerations and decisions that go into putting together a project. Thus, below you will find some preliminary shots exploring different lighting, background, and make up techniques, along with different possible compositions. Feedback and title suggestions welcome.

 

(click images for high resolution lightbox view)

bright white thai portraitbright white thai portraitbright white thai portrait

bright white thai portraitbright white thai portraitbright white thai portrait

bright white thai portrait

 

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An Ode to the Motorcycle

A few decades ago in China, young couples sought to own a bicycle, a sewing machine, a wristwatch and a radio before committing to marriage, the accoutrements of a new family on the rise. In Vietnam, the same was true until about ten years ago when, thanks to the opening of the economy, the bicycle was replaced with its motorized cousin, the motorcycle (or what Americans, accustomed to Harley Davidson definition of “motorcycle,” would probably refer to as a “scooter”). Replete throughout all of Southeast Asia, motorcycles seem to be in greater abundance here than anywhere else in the region – at rush hour every red light sees a rapid accumulation of them building up at the front of the line of traffic, weaving their way around cars and busses, only to burst forward like a swarm of very determined bees at the signal’s change (a chemistry or physics analogy seems apt here, something about heavy particles and light particles, but I lack the scientific knowledge to draw one – help, readers?).

At the risk of digression, it’s interesting to note the role of motorcycles in Vietnam when compared with the more affluent and status-hungry Thailand, where cars have become the mark of one’s arrival to the middle class and motorcycles are looked at as an indicator of one’s lowly, proletarian station. This is seen most readily in the Bangkok educated class’s attitudes towards dek wan, a teenage subculture known for their love of punk-derived style and late-night motorcycle racing (I wager, in fact, that for most Bangkokians, dek wan are the primary association made with the motorcycle). Seen as Thailands answer to “street gangs,” the media there have embraced the type of fear-mongering journalism common in the United States in the 1990’s, frequently reporting on dek wan races, accidents and police busts of wan gangs. And much like white America, when the subject comes up most middle class Bangkokians will shake their heads, cluck their tongues and bemoan the sad state of modern society, citing dek wan and their motorcycles as the primary cause of what’s gone wrong. I don’t know enough about Vietnamese culture to know exactly what the motorcycle connotes here, but a quick glimpse around leads me to think they’re still more of a status symbol (or at least just a really convenient way to get around), and, have nothing to do with being (to co-opt a phrase from Darwin) a mark of one’s lowly origin.

Indeed, it is impossible to imagine a modern Vietnam without motorcycles, ridden by people of all ages and used as far more than a mode of transportation, the motorcycle here is entertainment, a work horse, a fashion accessory, a comfortable lounge chair, and, it would seem, a trusted companion.

Without further adieu, I present to you a photo-homage to one of my favorite aspects of Vietnamese life: the motorcycle. (don’t forget to click on the images for a full-size view)

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City

Motorcycles in Ho Chi Minh City