John Thomson: Pictures of Old Siam

“His [Thomson’s] photographic style can be perceived from the beauty of his works. Back then when all he had was natural light, he still managed to get the beautiful photographs”

(Paisarn Piemmettawat, the exhibition’s organizer’s assistant)

John Thomson: the crown prince of Siam (Rama V)

John Thomson photography: the crown prince of Siam (Rama V)

John Thomson Photography

Recently I’ve come across an interesting article in the Bangkok Post. It is about a photo exhibition of the Scot J. Thomson, born in 1837, who was one of the first photographers in the Far East.

young Siamese prince

A young Siamese prince

The National Gallery on Chao Fah Road in Bangkok now shows 60 of Thomson’s black and white photos of old Siam. These photos were taken in 1865 – 1866. The exhibition is called “Siam Through The Lens Of John Thomson”. It started on 10. January and runs until 28. February 2015. You have free entry to this exhibition.

Siamese nobleman Racha Chaya

Siamese nobleman Racha Chaya

The photographer arrived in Bangkok on 28. September 1865. Thus, the exhibition marks the 150th year since his arrival in Siam.

Siamese Buddhist bonze.

Portrait of a Siamese monk, 1865

While staying in Siam after living and travelling some other places in Asia like Ceylon and Malaysia, Thomson took photos of the King of Siam, members of the royal court but also of ordinary people. Hence, he also documented village life.

L0055805 Siamese boatman, Siam [Thailand].

A Siamese boatman with his oar.

 

siamese teenager with topknot

A Siamese youth with traditional topknot

What is special about Thomson is that he was the first (Western) photographer to be allowed into the Grand Palace and to take photos of King Mongkut, Rama IV. The King was very much impressed with his skill of taking photos.

800px-Thomson_King_Mongkut_of_Siam-762x1000

King Mongkut, Rama IV, in European attire, 1865

 

L0055542 The 1st King of Siam, King Mongkut, in state robes, Bangkok

King Monkut in traditional Thai attire and regalia of royalty, 1865

Hence, there is a very special picture of a procession taken in front of Wat Pho because the situation was that the King called everyone to stay still so that Thomson could take photos of this event. In fact, this is a rare picture of a historical moment that displays the greatness of Thai tradition.

king of siam and procession

The king and his procession in front of Wat Pho

What is more, Thomson also took photos of the city of Bangkok and Ayutthaya.

the chao phraya river as seen from the main spire of Wat Arun

The Chaophraya river viewed from Wat Arun

thomson_1

The pictures in this post are all taken from the Wellcome Library, London. They also have more photos of Thomson’s travel to other parts of East Asia.

Well, the exhibition is over but there is now a new book called ‘Siam Through the Lens of John Thomson’ published by River Books. If you are interested in history, old Siam and John Thomson’s photography, I strongly recommend you check out this work 🙂

Yours, Sirinya




A Day in Ayutthaya

Indeed, it’s been a while since I visited Ayutthaya in Thailand. It’s about two years by now. However, I have been deeply impressed by this place and often thought and reminisced about it.

Sleeping dog at Ayutthaya

Sleeping dog in Ayutthaya

Well, the first thoughts that come to my mind when thinking about this place are amazing temple complexes where squirrels feast on fresh coconuts and where homeless dogs rest in the peaceful shades of banyan trees and temple ruins. Hence, to me this seems to be a place of contemplation, rest and inner peace today.

Squirrel and coconut at Ayutthaya

Squirrel and coconut in Ayutthaya

Ayutthaya

The city is situated in the region Amphoe Phra Nakhon Si Ayutthaya (พระนครศรีอยุธยา) which is about 70 km from Bangkok. Thus, this location is ideal for a day trip from the capital.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, Reclining Buddha, Ayutthaya

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, Reclining Buddha

Well, let me tell you some facts about the history of this location: this place became the second capital of the Siamese Kingdom which was founded in 1350. Nonetheless, this place was conquered by the Burmese in the mid of the 18th century. As a matter of fact, it remained the capital city of Thailand for 417 years and has been registered as a world heritage by the World Heritage Committee (UNESCO) in 1981. That was when the Historical Park was declared as a “World Cultural Heritage”. It is famous for its historical temples, museums and palaces.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, stupa, Ayutthaya

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, view from the stupa,

Most prominently, I remember visiting the Reclining Buddha that wears a yellow robe. The Buddha is situated in Wat Yai Chai Mongkon (วัดใหญ่่ชัยมงคล). There is a stupa that visitors can climb and from there you have a nice view on a series of Buddha statues which also wear yellow robes.

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, stupa, Ayutthaya

Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, Buddha statues with yellow robes

Returning to the Reclining Buddha’s feet you can stick some coins there, this is supposed to bring good luck to you 🙂

Reclining Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, Ayutthaya

Reclining Buddha at Wat Yai Chai Mongkon, sticking coins to the Buddha’s feet

My next station was the palace of King U-Thong and the funny and amazing display of roosters. In particular, I remember the giant rooster in front of the palace.

Giant rooster of King U-Thong, Ayutthaya

Great rooster of King U-Thong,

In his youth, King U-Thong very much enjoyed rooster fightings. Thus, you find a large number of rooster statues displayed around this palace.

Statue of King U-Thong, Ayutthaya

Statue of King U-Thong

The next memorable sight was visiting Wat Phanan Choeng (วัดพนัญเชิงวรวิหาร) which is situated in the Historical Park. Wat Phanan Choeng is partly Thai and partly Chinese. Thus, you can find there a section with entirely Chinese statues.

At Wat Phanan Choeng, Ayutthaya

Chinese statues at Wat Phanan Choeng,

However, the most important sight in this temple is the 19meters high giant golden Buddha statue.

Great Buddha at Wat Phanan Choeng, Ayutthaya

Great Buddha at Wat Phanan Choeng

The legends say that when Ayutthaya was taken by the Burmese tears flowed from the eyes of the Buddha.

Wat Mahathat (วัดมหาธาตุ) is an amazing site too. Here the main stupa is surrounded by ancient monuments and small Buddha statues.

At Wat Mahathat, Ayutthaya

At Wat Mahathat

In Wat Mahathat you also find a most famous image, namely the Buddha head that is wrapped within a banyan tree.

Buddha head in banyan tree, Ayutthaya

Buddha head in banyan tree

It seems that nature embraces and takes care of Buddha so that he endures over the centuries in spite of violence and destruction. In this context, I’ve also come across a very nice book called ‘Ayutthaya: Venice of the East’ by Derick Garnier which deals with the history of this place. I truly like to get my hands on this book soon 🙂

Finally, I’d like to say that it was great fun , in particular, because nearby you have the opportunity to feed turtles and fishes in the Chao Phraya river!

Feeding turtles in Ayutthaya

Feeding turtles in Ayutthaya

 

Feeding turtles in Ayutthaya

Feeding turtles

Happy feeding fishes & turtles!

I hope you enjoyed reading my post! Have you been to this place and what do you like most about it?

Do you know that there is also a sweet dessert speciality from Ayutthaya? It’s called Roti Sai Mai and it’s a kind of crepe filled with colourful cotton candy strands 🙂

Have a nice day everyone,

Sirinya

(All photos in this post are my own)