A set of retouched images by renowned Thai photographer Chub Nokkaew of Wat Arun’s iconic statues wearing face masks was apparently so skilfully made that it almost resulted in him facing a criminal charge.
This followed criticism of the artwork on Thai social media and the temple initially thinking the images had been made by someone scaling the conserved statues for a photo shoot without permission.
However, after Chub – the founder of Chubcheevit studio and two-time Cannes Lions award-winning photographer – explained that the images had been digitally doctored in order to raise Thai public awareness about air pollution in Greater Bangkok and apologised to the temple’s monks, the drama ended, much to the relief of all concerned.
Bangkok Yai precinct superintendent Pol Colonel Jarupat Thongkomol confirmed on Tuesday that the case had been closed following the photographer’s explanation and apology to the temple, and the photographer was deemed to have had neither the intention to insult nor cause damage.
Police had however also made a daily record of the incident, he added.
A Facebook post by Chub confirmed that he was not facing any prosecution, as the case against him stemmed from a misunderstanding, which he had already clarified to Wat Arun monks and the police.
The photographer also quoted one monk as saying in their recent meeting that the monks thought the temple security guards had allowed others to put the face masks on statues for his photo shoot.
But, after listening to his explanation, they understood the intention behind the images, namely, to raise public awareness of the danger of PM2.5 dust particles in the capital’s air and urge people to wear face masks for self-protection.
He added that the monk had also suggested that he put out some information to explain the work process he used to create the retouched photos, so as to prevent any further misunderstanding.
Wat Arun secretary Phra Maha Chumphorn Nitisaro told the Amarin TV channel on Monday that such photos should not be considered damaging, as they were not made by intruding or stepping on the conserved statues, but by the digital doctoring of images so as to create public awareness of the PM2.5 haze issue.
The use of religious sites as backgrounds to create artwork must be careful and appropriate, he added.
Chub’s nine-image set of Wat Arun, Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho’s giant statues wearing face masks has been shared widely among Thai social media users.
The original Facebook post on February 3 has received 18,000 “likes”, while 1,000 users made comments and another 22,933 shared the post onward.