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Bangkok photographer Sopon Chienwittayakun frequently travels throughout the countries of Asia, hoping to capture transient moments. His work focusses on people and the landscapes they live in. At the end of 2012 he was drawn to Lake Inle, where he captured unique impressions of the Intha fishermen. Equipped with an M9-P and an M6, an Elmarit-M 21 mm and a Summarit-M 50 mm, the beautiful pictures he took are full of graceful movement and contrasts. More photos can be seen in the current issue of LFI.

You photograph people preferably in black and white, while your landscapes are often in colour. The imagery in the two cases is very different. What are your reasons for this and what is your photographic approach?

I often choose to express human subjects in black and white because I believe it provides the most accurate depiction of the soul. When I exclude all colours from my imagery, it touches the true feelings. On the other hand, my landscape photographs are mostly presented in colour. The warm tones at dusk and dawn, vibrant leaves, golden sands, nice blue skies and turquoise seas are only amazing in colour.
I wasn’t born with artistic skills, but I like to keep my eyes on beautiful things including scenery or nice lighting and shadows. I took a few street photography workshops where I learnt many good approaches. My photographic approach relies on two main things: first of all, the ability to control my camera quickly – quick enough to capture the right moment. If I see an interesting frame, I will practice shooting before the right moment happens or before the right subjects enter the frame. This has helped me improve my skill at arranging compositions very quickly. Lighting is also something I focus on. Good lighting is one of the essential factors in making one photograph look better than another.
The second important thing to me is ‘mind set’. At the beginning when I tried to shoot photographs of strangers, I was scared of how they would react to me. If I am scared, I have no joy whatsoever in taking pictures. So I tell myself that I am there for a good reason. I have good intentions to photograph what I feel. I keep improving this attitude and it works. I give them a nice and polite smile. The rest is just about waiting for the moment, gesture and eyes.

Being a practising Buddhist you have a different view of the world. What kind of influence does this have on your photography and, at the same time, does taking pictures have an influence on your perception of the world?

I’m not sure if I can explain this point well enough. I am a Buddhist and one of the teachings in Buddhism says that everything changes. There is nothing in this world that stays forever. So I am happy living my everyday life witnessing that very fact, and thinking of how to best cope with those changes. I believe that is why I take out my gear and, whenever possible, capture moments from place to place. Photography has slowed me down, made me think about things and observe my surroundings more carefully. I’m always happy to see how people are different from one place to the next, and the same with landscape photography. All these things represent the happiness that I only feel when I see through my shutter.

What’s happening next? What projects are you planning to do?

I recently started photographing people more and more frequently in colour. Photographing people in colour makes me slow down my thoughts even more before shooting, because I have to manage which colours will fill the frame. This is even more challenging to me than black and white photography, where I only have to care about the moment, the emotion, composition and lighting.
I’m currently in the field of documentary photography. My first project, which is in process right now, is about culture and society. It is a new commitment to life which I believe will have a positive impact on the world. I cross my fingers and pray that I can complete it by the end of 2016. Please allow me to remain quiet about the details.

Sopon Chienwittayakun

Born in Bangkok in 1975, Sopon studied Marketing, and now runs the family business. A self-taught photographer, he has presented his work in publications such as Wings and on
www.artphotofeature.com, as well as in the exhibition Personal Journey at the Whisgars Club in Bangkok

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