• Among the young royals taking an interest in early photography was the prince, second left, who would become King Rama VII. Photo courtesy of National Archive
  • Wat Arun as it once appeared Photo courtesy of National Archive
  • Typical costumes of another era Photo courtesy of National Archive
  • An actress in theatrical costume Photo courtesy of National Archive
  • Traditional dancers Photo courtesy of National Archive
  • Elephants parade along Bamrung Muang Road for the Brahmin ceremony at the Giant Swing at Bangkok City Hall, a tradition terminated under King Rama VII. Photo courtesy of National Archive
  • The old library of King Rama VI Photo courtesy of National Archive
  • Siam's first telegraph office opened in 1883. Photo courtesy of National Archive

Bygone times live on in historic images

Art May 13, 2018 01:00

By Phatarawadee Phataranawik
The Nation

9,554 Viewed

Travel to old Siam in show of a Unesco-recognised Royal Collection

The Culture Ministry’s National Archives will for the first time display a collection of century-old royal photographic glass-plate negatives and original prints recording the old Siam.

   The collection was last December designated as a “Memory of the World” by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (Unesco).

   The show, entitled “Celebrating the National Glass Plate Negatives Recognised as a Unesco Memory of the World” will take place at the National Gallery from May 25 to July 26. Funded by Thai Beverage Public Co Ltd, the Bt4-million-show is being curated by veteran photographer Nitikorn Kraivixien of ThaiBev. Nitikorn annualy handles HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s photography show at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre.

    The exhibition will feature 150 reprinted photographs in various sizes spread over eight rooms. Displayed from ceiling to floor, with some images as tall as 1.5 metres, the show aims to make historic Siam come to life. Samples of the original glass-plate negatives will also be on display.

    The show will look at old Siam through eight lenses: Siam through glass-plate negatives, national symbols, royal ceremonies and historical events, the Kingdom’s development, culture and tradition, historic places, influential people, and Siam and the world. 

    The Unesco website trumpets the Collection for documenting the important transformations underway in Siam at a time of massive worldwide change – from the era of the West’s colonisation of Asia, through the years of World War I, and the aftermath of the war as it affected Siam and led to the dawn of a constitutional monarchy.

    Stored at the National Archive, the Royal Collection holds almost 35,427 glass plate negatives and 50,000 prints, covering a long and continuous period from 1855-1935. 

     The collection was previously preserved in the three separate royal libraries of their original owners – King Chulalongkorn, King Vajiravudh and Prince Damrong Rajanubhab, King Mongkut’s son. In 1977, they were given over to the care of the National Archive in Bangkok. To date, 24,800 plates have been scanned for digital use, and 4,149 plates have been included in the national database.

     The Royal Collection is the fifth heritage archives from Thailand recognised by Unesco.