Critics’ Picks

Ohm Phanphiroj, Untitled, 2009, black-and-white photograph, 10 x 14 1/2". From the series “The Disabled,” 2009.

Ohm Phanphiroj, Untitled, 2009, black-and-white photograph, 10 x 14 1/2". From the series “The Disabled,” 2009.

Bangkok

Ohm Phanphiroj

H Gallery
201 Sathorn Soi 12
November 4–December 2, 2009

Ohm Phanphiroj’s latest series of photographs, “The Disabled,” 2009, was shot at the “Male Disabled Center and Rehabilitation” in southeast Thailand. In these works, Phanphiroj eschews the high production values of his previous images of beautiful young men and Thai transsexuals for heavily shadowed and mostly gritty black-and-white shots. Many of the figures lie or crouch; some are naked, including one man who is tied to a pipe while, nearby, a dog dozes in the shade. Phanphiroj also resists the conventions of portraiture for views of the disabled men in situ. Soulless concrete architecture is featured consistently.

A number of photographs show his subjects struggling with the ritual of washing themselves. In one work, a youth staring impassively from the edge of bed is juxtaposed with the useless legs of a fellow patient. An exception in the series is a touching color photograph of a man smiling, albeit inanely, at the viewer.

“The Disabled” demonstrates Phanphiroj’s strengths as a photographer insofar as he manages to invoke a certain tradition––documentary photographs of “the other”––while complicating the tradition’s raison d’être. That is, these photographs resist voyeurism and spectacle. This is a welcome departure in terms of Phanphiroj’s oeuvre generally (his previous series rely heavily on conventional precedents) and suggests a necessary signpost for those who choose to work in this mode.