• His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej captured his own shadow at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin in 2000.
  • A portrait of the Queen taken at Doi Pui, Chiang Mai
  • A portrait of the Queen, taken in England in 1966
  • His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn as he appeared in 1955
  • A set of portraits of the Queen, taken in 1985
  • A set of photos from the 1970s shows Her Majesty in the gardens of Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai.
  • The images from the latter part of His Majesty’s reign were mostly taken at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin.
  • His Majesty's favourite dog, Khun Tongdaeng, taken at Chitralada Villa in 1999

Royal exposures

Art September 10, 2017 01:00

By Khetsirin Pholdhampalit
The Sunday Nation

2,596 Viewed

Photos taken by His Majesty the late King, some never shown in public before, are on display in Bangkok



HIS MAJESTY the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej was always seen with a camera – in his younger years travelling around the country and in his old age making public appearances in a wheelchair at Siriraj Hospital. But what was inside the camera?

The Bangkok Art and Culture Centre exposes the rolls of royal film in the exhibition “Through the Lens of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej”, continuing through January 7.

It features 200 photographs taken by the beloved monarch through much of his 70-year reign, and many have never before been publicly displayed.

The third and final exhibition in the “Supreme Artist” series, the show is organised by the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand.

His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej captured his own shadow at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin in 2000.

It covers three periods, starting in 1955 with images mainly of the royal family. In the middle period he used photography in planning projects to help the country develop. And the final set includes portraits of his pet dogs and the Hua Hin landscape, made towards the end of his reign while he was staying at Klai Kangwon Palace.

The exhibition’s curator, noted photographer Nitikorn Kraivixian, says it was Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s idea to do a show because there were so many of her father’s photos that had never been seen in public. 

And there hadn’t been an exhibition of the late King’s photos in about 25 years, he noted.

“From the 600 pictures for which I had permission to use, I selected 200 that were really outstanding and seldom seen. We digitally scanned and reprinted them for this show.”

The exibition opens with mostly black-and-white photographs dating to 1955, the year Princess Sirindhorn was born. His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn was then the three-year-old Prince. It’s a thrill to see a rare shot of the Princess in her baby crib, with her brother attempting to lull her to sleep. There are also moving portraits of Her Majesty Queen Sirikit and her children that reflect the warm relationships within the family.

The future King Maha Vajiralongkorn at age three tries to lull his baby sister, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn, to sleep in her crib in 1955

“His family portraits show really just a simple family,” Nitikorn points out. “My favourite is the picture of the Queen and her four children riding a train in 1961. The composition is perfect and there’s a warm feeling to it. It’s a joy to see them all so young and cheerful.”

The late monarch abided by his mother’s principle. “Not noble by birth, yet noble by deeds,” Her Royal Highness the Princess Mother, revered as Somdej Ya, would say. He took a picture of her aboard a ship with then-prime minister Field Marshal Plaek Phibunsongkhram and his wife, Thanpuying La-iad. 

His Majesty was a self-taught photographer, so the depth of talent on display is remarkable. 

Her Majesty Queen Sirikit rides a train with her children in 1961.

“I think he inherited his passion for photography from his mother, who was always snapping pictures of her children,” Nitikorn says. “Somdej Ya gave him a tiny box camera when he was just a child and photography became a lifelong interest. His Majesty learned how to develop the film and print and enlarge photos, in colour as well as black and white. He even set up his own dark room.”

The late King’s portraits of the Queen capture her natural beauty and elegance, whether casually attired or in glamorous embellished gowns. One stunning set from the 1970s has her in various poses amid the flower gardens at Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai.

A set of photos from the 1970s shows Her Majesty in the gardens of Bhubing Palace in Chiang Mai.

“Her Majesty is a style legend,” notes Nitikorn. “She’s always well groomed, confident and glamorous. Many women adopted her hairstyles and fashion sense.”

Starting in 1970, His Majesty took photos from his car and from a helicopter during trips around the country, a time when he planned more than 4,000 sustainable-development projects. He referred to the routes taken across rough terrain as “disco roads” because of the shaking and bouncing he endured.

There isn’t the slightest blur to the photos he took, though – the deforested hills, swaths of infertile soil and parched streams are all too clear, the challenges in sharp focus. These were the problems he set out to fix.

Starting in 1970, the late monarch used photography in planning projects to help the country develop.

“Many pictures illustrate his interest in water management, which led to his irrigation projects to mitigate drought and flooding,” Nitikorn says. “He gathered in-depth information wherever he went, so he clearly understood people’s needs, and that made his initiatives successful.”

King Bhumibol was interested in irrigation from a young age. His elder sister, Her Royal Highness the late Princess Galyani Vadhana, wrote in her memoir “Jao Nai Leklek, Yuwakasat” (“The Small Kings”) that, as a child, Prince Bhumibol would dig canals and build dams in the garden.

Starting in 1970, the late monarch used photography in planning projects to help the country develop.

He went on to study science and engineering at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. On becoming King in 1946, he switched to politics and law, but never lost interest in water management, a fact that benefited his country considerably during his reign.

His Majesty also had a deep understanding of Buddhist principles and often held lengthy discussions with revered monks, four of whom are pictured in the exhibition – His Holiness Somdet Phra Nyanasamvara (the 19th Supreme Patriarch), Luang Pu Waen Sucinno, Luang Pu Khao Analayo and Luang Pu Tes Tesrangsi.

Nitikorn gestures to four other remarkable photos, in which the late King captured his own shadow. 

“I’ve used one of them to promote this exhibition. It perfectly illustrates his unique character, even though it’s just a shadow of him.”

His Majesty the late King Bhumibol Adulyadej captured his own shadow at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin in 2000.

The images from the latter part of His Majesty’s reign were mostly taken at Klai Kangwon Palace in Hua Hin and at Siriraj Hospital in Bangkok. His pet dog Khun Tongdaeng and her offspring were favourite subjects.

“There are a lot of pictures of Khun Tongdaeng in various poses that will make people smile,” Nitikorn says. “It’s obvious she was his best-loved pet.”

His Majesty's favourite pet dog, Khun Tongdaeng, had her own identity card.

One photo shows Khun Tongdaeng in 1998 just as the King was adopting her during a visit to the Medical Development Clinic in Bangkok, which had rescued a stray dog’s litter. 

He named her Tongdaeng for her copper-coloured hide and in 2002 penned a heartfelt book about her attributes. Praising her loyalty and obedience, the King memorably deemed her a “common dog who is uncommon”. Khun Tongdaeng was 17 when she died in 2015.

Khun Tongdaeng and her offspring

His Majesty also took photos of the insects, birds and flowers of Klai Kangwon Palace. And, while undergoing lengthy treatment at Siriraj Hospital, he snapped pictures from his window of people gathered outside wearing yellow T-shirts in his honour. There are also images of a royal barge procession on the Chao Phraya River and the fireworks display that welcomed New Year 2008.

A picture snapped from his window at Siriraj Hospital in 2007

Another segment of “The Supreme Artist” series continues on the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre’s eighth floor, “Remembrance of the Great King” – painted and drawn portraits of the late monarch and another 1,000 rare photographs. That exhibition runs until November 26.

On the seventh floor is “Earth Water Forest Air: The Royal Inspiration”, featuring 90 works by 45 artists inspired by the late King’s royal projects. That ends on November 12.

 

A LIFE IN FOCUS

“Through the Lens of His Majesty King Bhumibol Adulyadej” continues until January 7 on the ninth floor of the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

The centre is open daily except Monday from 10am to 9pm. It’s at the Pathumwan intersection opposite MBK mall, near the National Stadium BTS station.

Get more details at (02) 214 6630-8 and www.BACC.or.th.