How did you end up living in Thailand and how long have you been there?
I went on holiday 6 years ago to meet some friends who were travelling out there for a longer time and had an amazing 3 weeks. It was so colourful and the streets are always bustling and it was so rich for photography. I made friends there and went back more and more. Now I try to spend 6 months in Thailand and 3 months back in London avoiding all the rain as much as possible.
How do you choose your photo projects and how did your Christmas in Thailand project get started?
I normally shoot anything that interests me and projects develop by themselves over time. I had been in Thailand for Christmas one time before, and was struck by how interested they were about it. Every shopping mall has a giant Christmas display with lights and and most shops and cafes have staff in reindeer antlers or Santa hats. Lots of security guards become Santa Claus directing traffic etc. Malls and shops play the same Christmas songs for a whole month as well. When I was in Thailand for the second Christmas I knew I wanted to try and capture it fully.
What’s the Christmas season like there? I mean most people aren’t Christian, right? So how is the holiday celebrated/embraced?
Thailand is a majority Buddhist country, 93% in their last census, but they are also very fun loving and enjoy celebrating Valentines day, Chinese New Year, Halloween or any other holiday that involves dinners, dressing up or presents. Most work places have embraced the Christmas office party and friends do secret Santa present giving. They still will have a lot of Thai food mainly and its too hot for mulled wine etc. Sometimes they might get some of the details wrong, I went to a Christmas fancy dress party and there was a roman legionnaire and ice cream costume, something that wouldn’t be associated with the holidays in the UK, but made sense to them in a fancy dress party. A hotel I walked past had a banner that read “Great Merry X’Mas”, a phrase I have never heard before. It’s mainly the commercial parts of Christmas that get adopted and understood as normal, it’s interesting to see your own holiday like that.
Did you talk to any Thai people about celebrating Christmas? What’s their take on it?
I talked to as many people as I could about it, I was so interested in how this western holiday was such a big deal over here. Most people took it as normal to celebrate as many holidays as possible and they had seen Christmas films like Home Alone or the Muppets Christmas Carol that filled in a lot of details for them.
What’s it like documenting events in Thailand? How do people react to street photographers?
I’ve shot in every country in Europe and the USA and a lot of Asian countries and Thailand is the easiest place I’ve taken street photos. The people are open and welcoming and love to take photos themselves as well, so it’s in the culture. People are normally quite relaxed and are having fun in their daily lives, so being in a photo is no problem for them. There are a lot of bold colours on buildings, taxis, clothes etc which I am really drawn to, and the strong sun and hard shadows can be fun to play with.
Will you head out to document Christmas again this year? Or is your original project complete?
I feel now this will be an ongoing project, I’m sure next December when Christmas gets going I won’t be able to resist. Maybe in some years I will have enough to publish a photo book. Another quirk of Thailand is that a lot of people leave Christmas decorations up for a long time. In the UK you are meant to take all your decorations down by the twelfth night after Christmas or it’s bad luck, but in Thailand a bar might still have tinsel and a tree up in march.
What’s next for you photographically speaking? Any exciting projects up your sleeve?
I just finished a project called Sameๆ, it is a zine and exhibition in Bangkok. The project was looking at the sense of humour and all of the dualities of life in Thailand where a lot of things don’t make sense at first and then you realise they never will. Doing such a big project stops you from shooting so much and I’ve been enjoying editing my recent shots and finding new directions and links to follow. Right now I am working on a series of Thai street chairs that have been hand repaired for Bangkok design week, they represent the flexibility and spirit of Thai people who keep moving forwards no matter what.