Photographers feel the power of monks

Written by By Jason Del Rey, CNN © Yung Thia Gyi For Thaeyabung, it was like life imitating art. “Every time the temple would be cleaned, a monk would poke a candle in my…

Photographers feel the power of monks

Written by By Jason Del Rey, CNN

© Yung Thia Gyi

For Thaeyabung, it was like life imitating art.

“Every time the temple would be cleaned, a monk would poke a candle in my corner,” the 25-year-old says. “And I had only one candle.”

Part of a group of Thai students studying electronic media, Thaeyabung’s interest in making art from the mundane was never far from his mind.

Thaeyabung (not his real name) had just finished his last year at school when the summer began, packed with bike rides, swing sets and pachinko games at a local amusement park.

But as Thaeyabung recalls, the quiet weather was no match for the monks’ eerie nightly chants.

“One night there was a noise in the evening so I just grabbed the watch and tried to run away,” he says. “But when I stepped out on to the square, the monks were saying prayers and giving thanks for the rice harvest. Their voices were so deep, I felt a lump of dirty hands in my throat.”

In the packed square of temples that are the center of Bangkok’s old city, Thaeyabung’s experience — just a bagatelle away from the grandeur of the temples themselves — was more than he could have imagined.

The temple scene by Thaeyabung

The experience launched a new phase of Thaeyabung’s life. For the next two years, he spent nearly every day — at least from 10 in the morning to about 11 at night — at the majestic Wat Phra Dhammakaya, a second-century temple revered by Thailand’s elite.

To Thaeyabung, the temple scene was magic. He began making portraits and acrylic drawings of monks that he stored in a dark place in his apartment.

“After months of collecting a lot of money, I feel so lucky to be the one who came up with the idea of traveling around,” he says.

Chantaramsai Chowsynk, 28, another Thais student studying electronic media, is also fascinated by the temples. In 2014, he and Chantaramsai would seek to capture the meditative atmosphere.

On their way, they came across an empty airplane cabin. It was the first time either had ever climbed the marble stairs.

“Even though it was an unlikely starting point, we decided to climb into the cabin and start making art,” Chantaramsai says.

In just a few hours, they had built a small cinderblock studio in the cabin.

The creative process: recording monks

“First, we were trying to find the pictures on YouTube and met many good artists,” Chantaramsai says. “But everyone had one video and images that they’d draw from something that happened in the temple or the sky.

“We were not sure what we were going to do, so we settled on trying to create a first hand view from above.”

The studio became a haven, where Chantaramsai would listen to monks making compositions as well as appreciate their spiritual presence. He began recording the encounters and in 2015, released his first album, “My Life as Buddha.”

For Tai Hmunteephun, 19, the studio life at Wat Phra Dhammakaya gave him the chance to build bridges with other artists on campus.

“Not all Thai people are like me,” he says. “In my country, there are many artists who want to create some form of art, but if you want to be professional, you go to school.”

The studio life meant Tai could visit other student artists in the studio.

The first day Tai went into the studio, he recalls, was a little scary.

“But I liked it,” he says. “I felt very important.”

Leave a Comment