Looking back: 28 years in Asia

I find it hard to believe, but I have now spent the majority of the last 28 years living and working in Thailand and SE Asia. All things must pass – and I now find myself preparing to move back to where I grew up, returning the north of England with my wife and children. As the move creeps closer I feel a greater sense of urgency to try and document life here and in doing so, find myself looking at things in a different way.




Photography was a major factor in creating an early fascination with the region. Some of the images were of the turmoil the region experienced from the 1970s. As a child I remember reading through copies of Newsweek and the powerful images of the war and unrest. One particularly iconic shot has always stuck with me of a student protester being lynched and mutilated by an angry crowd in Bangkok.




But many of the photographs that made an impression on me were of daily life in the farms and cities, and especially, the daily practice and cultural influence of Buddhism. My latter days at school were occupied by leafing through the coffee table type National Geographic books on Asia. It is this combination of historical change and everyday life that has influenced my own photography.




Over the last few years I have mainly focused on the area of Bangkok where I live and where I first stayed in 1988. As well as documenting the neighbourhood and its changes I have also focused on specific stories. One of these has been following a local foundation that teaches slum children the various skills involved in Muay Thai – the national sport of Thai Boxing.




A chapter of this story that focuses on the training and teaching has been published in Inspired Eye (vol, 24) and elsewhere. While continuing the development of the story I have also narrowed down on the young fighters participating in the competition, and the preparation for going into the ring. Seeing these young children prepare themselves for such an intense, hard, physical engagement is quite staggering – young proud kids.




I have also been exploring parts of Bangkok that I had not spent much time in for many years. One of these is Chinatown – visiting an old traditional pharmacy on several occasions, and also wandering through the market lanes.




Over the years I have also had chance to visit other countries. I managed to go back to Nepal – or at least Kathmandu for the first time since 1988. I spent every morning and evening walking the streets, again captivated by the devotion and reverence of daily life around the temples and shrines, but also the struggle of ordinary people to access water.




Nepal has been through a terrible period of violence since 1988 and the presence of the military on the streets bears testament to the ongoing political tensions. It was only a few weeks after my visit that the long-feared earthquake struck hitting many of the places that I had photographed.




I have also had chance to visit other cities in the region for the first time. A few days in Jakarta brought me into the chaos of the roads and the traffic, and road sweepers working in the middle of oncoming traffic in the early morning. I also made several visits to Yangon and Singapore wandering the back streets and alleys of two very different cities.




I have always been drawn to a documentary style of photography – everyday life that captures something of the spirit of people. Working on a focal length of between 28mm and 50 mm compels me to get close, and the shots that mean the most to me are the ones where there is a personal connection.




After so long away, I will be looking at life in England through very different eyes – older, but also much more shaped by my Asian experience.




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1 thought on “Looking back: 28 years in Asia”

  1. Wow, 28 years in Thailand and SE Asia. Have to say I’m a little bit envious as this is my favourite part of the world.
    Fantastic images Rich. They really take me back to past adventures. Thank you.

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