Seeing is Being: “I believe in photography” – an interview with Kornkrit Jianpinidnan
Written by Liu Chao-tze
Translated by Joanna Lee
The first time we met Kornkrit was actually at the third Bangkok Artbook Fair back in 2019. As fellow exhibitors, we often wanted to chat with him at his table, but it was hard to catch him in person. Obviously not at ease with the exhibition crowds, he was usually smoking and chatting with friends at the parking lot, instead of being at his seat.
He’s a coy person who speaks quietly and slowly, with slender fingers and neatly trimmed nails. “My photography is visual poetry,” he said, when we met up again for this interview.
Kornkrit Jianpinidnan is one of the few photographers in the Thai art scene who insists on using photobooks as his main art practice. He has been self-publishing photobooks since 2006, now with over 20 books under his belt. If poems are poems because of how precisely a poet uses words, then Kornkrit’s visual poetry demonstrates his perfectionism regarding photography printing.
In college, Kornkrit’s major was printmaking, and he experimented and color corrected constantly, holding printing quality to high standards. His grasp of the medium, as well as the presentation of his books, are equally thorough. His works consist of not only photography and photobooks, but also installation art, video and writing. He also cares about a work’s sense of space, so much so that he will make dummies or space mock-ups in the early stages of his work, in order to visualize his concepts. The exact placement of photos on the wall and the ways in which displayed works interact with the space all need to be backed by reason. For him, books are not only objects but also spaces. Just as curators would consider how a work would respond accordingly to the space, as well as what kinds of stories they wish to present to the viewers, Kornkrit will consider how a reader feels when looking through his books. The order of the photos, and the narrative it creates, is in itself a focal point, demanding a page-by-page read.
A travel photographer’s poetics of space
Of his self-published photobooks, the Poem series (2016-), an ongoing project, is one of the most significant. Since 2016, there have been 13 volumes published to date. The theme of each volume varies, and is not consistent with one another. Often, the photos consist of the people, objects and scenery encountered during his travels, or of the connections between a certain time and person. The photos are arranged chronologically, the order determined as soon as the photos are shot. Reading Poem, then, is like experiencing a journey with him.
On his own website, Kornkrit describes himself as a travel photographer. We asked him, half-jokingly, if he prefers the label of artist or photographer, given that people often associate ‘travel photographers’ with geography magazines. He answered nonchalantly: “It depends on the situation. Both are fine, I guess. You can even call me a fashion photographer, as long as you don’t call me something I haven’t been before.”
As someone who doesn’t care too much for the labels people put on him, he doesn't see a line between commercial work and art. He once put magazine rejections in his own artist’s book, while Poem 1 (2016) was originally a commercial image for a fashion brand. “I just like to take photos, so when magazines approach me, I think it’s a good opportunity,” he said. “I just have a conversation with them about what is possible and what is not. We can discuss.”
Doesn’t this kind of back-and-forth often require a compromise?
“No compromise,” he said, assuredly. “I think to make a decision in anything, you need a reason. We can make a decision together with a reason.”
Poem 12: Thinking of D (2018) is a collection of 144 photographs from Chanthaburi, a province on the southeast coast of Thailand. Despite the work being commissioned by French luxury brand Dior, Kornkrit headed to the area to look at the colonial traces left by France. After the Franco-Siamese War of 1893, the kingdom of Siam had ceded the land to France. According to Kornkrit, when he found out he would be collaborating with Dior, he began looking into the early development of the brand, which led him to the history of French colonization in Indochina in the 19th century. He discovered that the exhibition venue for ‘Lady Dior As Seen By’ just so happened to be along the Chao Phraya River, a place that bore witness to the ebb and flow of colonial power. So, he went to Chanthaburi, taking photographs along the river.
The first page of the book features the silhouette of a woman carrying the Lady Dior bag. Flipping through the pages, it’s as though one is walking with the Dior woman along the streets of Chanthaburi and past the heritage buildings of colonial bygones: the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Catholic church, Chanthaburi’s National Archives, the Old Town Chanthaboon Waterfront, the Kasemsarn Hotel, the National Maritime Museum and so on. At first glance, it is a simple journey; in reality, it is a poem that records the burdens of history.
Coinciding with the first wave of Thai self-publishing
Not long after Kornkrit arrived in Bangkok in 1999, he and several friends established the artist collective ‘As yet unnamed’. The 14 members included artists, photographers, designers, curators, writers, and so on. Prominent figures like Arin Rungjang, who once represented Thailand for the Venice Biennale, as well as Pratchaya Phinthong, who was exhibited at documenta 13, were members. The year that they all exhibited together in Project 304, an art space founded by the group leader Gridthiya Gaweewong, was the same year that they formed the collective. Soon after, in About Studio/About Cafe, an artist squat in Bangkok’s Chinatown, they began holding all kinds of exhibitions and experimenting with various art forms, including painting, installation, performance art, experimental photography and others. Combined with film screenings, workshops, seminars and lectures, the program lasted a total of nine months.
Self-publishing may have grown out of punk music and subcultural fanzines on the other side of the globe, but it followed a wholly different path in Thailand. The end of the ‘90s to the early 2000s saw the golden era of Thai independent publishing and self-published zine culture, which sprouted from experimental independent art spaces and alternative spaces. Here, artists were beginning to experiment with all kinds of mediums, including self-published photobooks, monographs, catalogues and other publication forms.
Small independent book fairs and zine fairs began popping up from 2000 to 2004. But with the boom of internet culture and the bust of independent publishing from 2005 onwards, added with the effects of the 2006 military coup, independent publishing activities soon began to disappear. It was not until the Bangkok Artbook Fair in 2017 that self-publishing finally had its breakthrough. Practitioners, designers and students young and old, as well as art museums and galleries all rushed to attend, breathing new life into the independent publishing and self-publishing circle, and creating new genres and forms.
If images were not only evidence
It was at the 2019 Bangkok Artbook Fair that Kornkrit and art historian Thanavi Chotpradit debuted Prism of Photography: Dispersion of Knowledge and Memories of the 6th October Massacre, a book they cooperated on. They gave away 40 copies onsite every day, in exchange for audience remarks of 800 to 1000 words.
The Thammasat University massacre occurred on October 6, 1976. Thai military forces cracked down on student protestors, opening fire on students and other civilians with weapons such as rockets and grenades. For the government, it’s a dark chapter of Thai history that has no place in public discourse; despite some chatter amongst the people, it’s something that’s briefly mentioned – if at all – in the classrooms. To this day, no official investigation has been launched, and the records have yet to be fully released to the public.
Kornkrit and Thanavi trawled through the archives of Thammasat University, the Thai Journalists Association, Documentation of Oct 6 Project and the website 2519.net, for photos of student protests – images of conflict, violence and misery – as well as the newspaper headlines at the time. They archived these materials, ordering them by chronology. But unlike traditional reports, where images support the narrative text, Kornkrit has chosen an index method, placing the images sources and dates on the very last page.
“Most of the documents are photographs. You can see some objects, but there are just a few of them. So the photographs are the evidence,” he said. “I hope to really focus on photography in this event.” The photos in the book are not pixelated or blurred. Aren’t they too direct to make people hardly bear to see? But Kornkrit believes that everything that happened is in these photos, since the photos are the only remaining evidence, why do we need to self-censor?
He continued: “At some point, maybe we have to leave the images to tell the story itself. If you’re curious to know about what has happened, you can start digging into it and understand it in your own way.”
As described towards the end of Prism of Photography : “In most history books, portrait and photojournalism act as illustrations to support the story, but what is ‘the image’ in itself? Does it have an ability to reveal or not reveal something? Does it bring about clarity or confusion, or both in a jumble? Can the image be more than a record of things past? When putting together the image and different forms of text in different media, how would the image operate?”
The image itself brings about all kinds of questions. Through the prism of photography, and the images that are refracted, can various forms of beautiful ‘light’ be dispersed, so as to allow this ‘light’ to be seen by more people?
Relating this to the 2019 Hong Kong protests, and the inability to differentiate between fake or real news and images, we asked him if he thought photography was a reliable material for truth. Moreover, even as images are widely disseminated on the internet, every photograph still maintains its own point of view – so, can photography still present the truth?
“Of course, I believe in photography.”
Every person we met on this trip in Thailand had their own nicknames, ranging from English names to everyday items, food and other objects. You’ll be fascinated to know, if you ask, that the names are laden with meaning. Curious, we asked Kornkrit about his; did it have any special meanings? “I don’t have a specific nickname, but friends who know me well call me Krit. It’s ‘knife’ in Sanskrit, the same name as a Hindu god who wields a knife.”
Instead of a knife, he wields a camera, writing poems.
Born in Chiang Rai in 1975, Kornkrit Jianpinidnan is a graduate of Chiang Mai University’s art department, majoring in printmaking and minoring in photography. He left for Bangkok not long after graduating, becoming a photographer in the fashion industry, shooting for major international brands’ fashion shows and fashion magazines. Kornkrit is not only a fashion photographer, he is one of the few photographers in the Thai art scene who insists on using photobooks as his main art practice. Involved in various art communities, he is a practitioner with a versatile background. His self-published works include Worry and Love (2006), Tales of Praya Prab Mountain (2010), Ballad (2014) and Poem (2016).
所見即所是：「我相信攝影。」——專訪攝影師 Kornkrit Jianpinidnan
第一次和 Kornkrit 見面其實是在 2019 年第三屆的曼谷藝術書展（Bangkok Artbook Fair）。同樣身為參展者，數次想去他的攤位上搭話，但是幾乎很難逮到他。他明顯對於書展人潮感到不自在，很少待在他的座位上，每次看到他都是在停車場跟他的朋友抽菸聊天。
Kornkrit Jianpinidnan 是泰國藝術圈少數持續以攝影書做為主要創作媒材的攝影師。他從 2006 年開始陸續自出版攝影書，至今已經有二十餘本。如果說，詩之所以為詩，在於詩人對字詞的精準掌握；Kornkrit 的視覺詩，則展現了他看待攝影印刷的完美主義。Kornkrit 大學在美術系主修版畫，他會不斷地實驗、校色，對印刷品質的要求極高；媒材的掌握和書的呈現形式也是深思熟慮。他的作品形式除了攝影、攝影書，也涵蓋裝置藝術、錄像、文字書寫。他也注重作品呈現的空間感，在作品成形初期會先做出樣書（dummy）或空間模型（mock-up）將他的概念視覺化。牆上的照片該放哪裡、作品擺置如何與空間對應，都必須有原由。對他而言，書是物件也是空間。如同策展時需考量空間和作品的相應變化，及希望跟觀者講述怎樣的故事。他會思考觀者翻閱書的時候會感受到什麼。書本需要一頁頁翻讀的特性，使得照片的編排敘事變成重要的一環。
《POEM》（2016 - ）系列是 Kornkrit 最主要的自出版攝影書之一，且為持續性的創作計畫。《POEM》從 2016 年出版至今已有 13 冊。每冊的主題都不同，也不固定。時常是他去某地旅遊所拍下的當地風景與人事物，或是某一時間片段與某人的連結。照片編排是按照時間順序，拍完的當下順序就已決定。翻閱《POEM》的同時，就如同跟他一起經歷了旅程。
不在意別人在他身上貼的標籤，對他來說商業與藝術的界線似乎並不存在。他曾把雜誌退貨的照片拿來做成他的藝術家的書（artist’s book），《Poem 1》（2016）則是幫某個時裝品牌拍的形象照。「我就是喜歡拍照。有雜誌找我拍，我覺得是很好的機會，我們可以討論；什麼方法可行、什麼方法不可行，都可以提出來講。」
《Poem 12 : Thinking of D》（2018）收錄了 144 張在泰國東南沿海的城鎮尖竹汶府（Chanthaburi）拍攝的照片。這件作品是法國名牌 Dior 的商業合作案，Kornkrit 卻去實地考察了法國在泰國留下的殖民痕跡。1893 年的法暹戰爭後，暹邏王朝將該區域割讓給了法國。Kornkrit 說，得知要與 Dior 合作展出後，他先是研究了 Dior 的品牌早年發展，隨後一路追溯到 19 世紀法國在中南半島的殖民史。他偶然發現，展覽「Lady Dior As Seen By」的場地，恰好就位於見證了殖民勢力消長來去的昭披耶河旁。於是他決定前往尖竹汶府，沿著河岸拍攝。
書的第一頁是提著戴妃包（Lady Dior）的女子側影。逐頁翻過，彷彿跟著 Dior 女子走在尖竹汶的街道上，並經過法國殖民時期建設的聖母天主教堂（The Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception）、承載歷史的尖竹汶檔案庫（Chanthaburi Archives）、尖竹汶老城區海濱（The Old Town Chanthaboon Waterfront）、甲盛沙飯店（Kasemsarn Hotel）、國家海事博物館（The National Maritime Museum）……。乍看是遊記，實為一首記錄歷史血淚的詩。
1999 年，Kornkrit 才抵達曼谷不久，便和幾個朋友組成了藝術組合「無名之徒」（As yet unnamed）。成員共有 14 位，包括藝術家、攝影師、設計師、策展人、作家等等。曾於威尼斯雙年展代表泰國館展出的藝術家 Arin Rungjang、各大美術館展覽常客藝術家 Pratchaya Phinthong 也都是成員之一。同年，他們在團長 Gridthiya Gaweewong 創立的藝術空間 Project 304 展出，並在同年組成團體。爾後，他們在曼谷中國城的佔領空間 About Studio／About cafe 舉辦各式展覽、嘗試各種藝術形式，從繪畫、裝置、行為藝術、實驗攝影不等，並結合影片放映、工作坊、研討會、講座，此活動計畫持續了 9 個月。
在地球另一頭，自出版起源於龐克音樂、次文化的「fanzine」；然而泰國自出版的發展軌跡並非如此。90 年代末到 2000 年初期是泰國獨立出版和自出版小誌文化（zine）的黃金年代。從一些實驗性的獨立藝術空間、替代空間萌芽，藝術家們開始實驗以各種媒材創作，其中也包含了自出版的攝影書、專刊、目錄等等出版形式。
在 2000 到 2004 年間，陸陸續續出現一些小型的獨立書展、小誌市集（zine fair）。然而，繼 2005 年起網路盛行、重挫獨立出版，以及 2006 年的軍事政變後，獨立出版的相關活動便漸漸消失。直到 2017 年面向大眾的曼谷藝術書展，終於突破同溫層。年輕一輩與稍微資深的創作者、設計師、學生，甚至是美術館、畫廊都跑來參與，獨立出版和自出版圈才又如同雨後春筍般熱鬧起來，創作體裁、形式也越發豐富。
1976 年 10 月 6 日爆發了泰國法政大學（Thammasat University）大屠殺事件。泰國軍政府強力鎮壓抗議的學生，且甚至使用了火箭砲、手榴彈等武器，向學生與人群開火。對泰國政府來說，這是完全不可提及的黑歷史，民間也甚少有人談論，學校課堂上只會稍稍帶過或甚至不提。至今為止，事件從來沒有被正式調查、紀錄也未曾完整公諸於世。
Kornkrit 與 Thanavi 走訪了法政大學的檔案庫、泰國記者協會（Thai Journalists Association）、10 月 6 日計畫資料庫（Documentation of Oct 6 Project）、2519.net 網站 ，將所有學生抗爭的照片，衝突的、暴行的、苦難的照片，以及事件發生期間的舊報紙頭版一一翻拍建檔，並依照時間順序編排。書中的照片並未像傳統報導般以圖佐文字敘述，Kornkrit 選擇只以索引的方式，將照片出處、日期放在書的最末頁。
想起香港於 2019 年中的抗爭，以及分辨不清真假的各種新聞和照片，問他：你認為攝影是接近事實的可靠材料嗎？即便現在網路上各式各樣的照片散落各處，拍的照片也帶有各自的觀點，你還是認為攝影可以展現真實（truth）嗎？
此次泰國行遇到的每個泰國人都有自己的小名，英文名、日常用品、食物、物件……各種，一問之下竟還都有意涵，十分有趣。好奇問 Kornkrit 他的小名是什麼？有什麼特殊涵義嗎？他說：「沒有特別的小名，比較熟的朋友都叫我 Krit。是梵語『刀』的意思，與印度教一位手裡拿著刀的神同名。」
1975 年出生於清萊。他在清邁大學美術系主修版畫、輔修攝影。畢業後隨即到曼谷，進入時尚產業當攝影師，曾拍攝國際各大品牌時裝秀以及時尚雜誌。然而，Kornkrit 不僅僅是時尚攝影師，更是泰國藝術圈少數持續以攝影書作為主要創作媒材的藝術家，也同時參與多個藝術社群，是背景相當多元的創作者。自出版代表作包括《Worry and Love》 (2006 - ）、《Tales of Praya Prab Moutain》（2010）、《Ballad》（2014）、《Poem》 (2016 - ）。
 Arin Rungjang was born in 1975, a pioneer of installation art in Thailand. His works, based around Southeast Asian history, signs and memory, explore the ways in which society, economics and politics affect the individual life. He represented Thailand at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
 Pratchaya Phinthong was born in 1974. He often uses mixed media in installations, sculptures, objects and concepts, and his works usually derive from the dialogue between the artist and other people. His work was exhibited at the 13th documenta.
 Project 304 was established in 1996, spearheading Bangkok’s independent art spaces. It was also an important hub for Thailand’s contemporary art in the ‘90s.
 Gridthiya Gaweewong is an internationally renowned curator, responsible for countless major art exhibitions. She has previously worked with Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija and filmmaker Apichatpong Weerasethakul, amongst others. She is the current director of the Jim Thompson Art Center.
 About Studio/About Cafe was one of the early alternative spaces for contemporary art in Bangkok. Aside from art exhibitions, contemporary theatre, performance art, video art, film screenings.
 Thanavi Chotpradit is an art historian, and a professor of archaeology and art history at Silpakorn University.
 Arin Rungjang 生於 1975 年，是泰國裝置藝術的先驅人物，他的創作源自東南亞的歷史、符號與記憶，探討社會、經濟和政治變革如何影響個體生活。曾於 2013 年代表泰國館在義大利的威尼斯雙年展展出。
 Pratchaya Phinthong 生於 1974 年，作品常用複合媒材裝置、雕塑、物件、觀念等等，他的作品通常是由藝術家與其他人之間的對話構成。作品曾於第13屆德國卡賽爾文件展展出。
 Gridthiya Gaweewong 為國際知名策展人，策劃過無數大型藝術展覽。曾與泰國藝術家 Rirkrit Tiravanija、電影導演 Apichatpong Weerasethakul 等人合作過。現為曼谷金湯普森藝術中心總監。
 Project 304 創立於 1996 年，是曼谷獨立藝術空間的先驅，也是 90 年代泰國當代藝術、實驗藝術的重要溫床。
 About Studio / About Cafe 為曼谷當代藝術早期的替代空間，除了藝術展覽外也會定期舉辦一系列當代劇場、行為藝術、錄像藝術、電影放映等活動。
 Thanavi Chotpradit 是一名藝術史學者，也是泰國藝術大學（ Silpakorn University）考古系、藝術史學系教授。
 Prism of Photography: Dispersion of Knowledge and Memories of the 6th October Massacre, 2019.