Ekkarat Punyatara, a National Geographic Thailand’s photo editor and staff photographer based in Bangkok. His photography is inspired by fascination in Thai culture that he was rooted since childhood by his conservative family. He first gained recognition for his photos in 2011 through a controversial project, It’s Personal that questioning the traditional conservative way of seeing Buddhism in Thailand. The project was a year-long documenting a group of Thai monks living in New York. His works has been published/showed worldwide, Smithsonian(USA), burn magazine(USA), Emaho magazine(India), IPA(Singapore), South China Post(China), Angkor Photo Festival(Cambodia), etc. His Instagram is selected as one of 20 Asian photographers that have the most interesting IG to follow, by IPA(Singapore). Ekkarat won international photo contests, Gold prize of Moscow International Fotography Awards, 2nd prize of Streetfoto San Francisco, 1st prize of 180 years Thai-American relationship photo contest, etc. Beside worldwide assignments as an outsider, Ekkarat will be in his home country photographing through the sight of the insider raising awareness of the social issues.
“Have you ever felt burned out?” A short question that is often heard from many people who come to talk to me. But it reminds me of a question that my foreign photographers and friends have always asked since we started our photography career.
It is “What do you take pictures for?”.
No matter what industry you work in. Living with it for a long time, there must be a feeling of being burned out naturally. But at the same time, it’s part of growing up. It’s a sign that you need to ask yourself how to move on or just stop here. I have been in the photography industry for 20 years. Communicating with different people is my job. People who are doing what he/she believes in and those people keep me motivated. The person I will take this photo is Auntie Jeab, Nongluck Chairitthichai, 66 years old, former Thai national skateboard downhill athlete, the oldest in the country. And is one of the oldest skateboarders in the world.
Dark clouds clustered across the sky above Lam Ta Khong dam. No matter who looks at it, they will guess that it will rain soon. I’m on the way to Khao Chan Ngam Temple, Sikhio District, Nakhon Ratchasima Province. This is where Auntie Jeab goes downhill skateboarding for 2 days. Actually, rain is not a problem for me when taking photos. Although Fujifilm said that this X-S20 that I will use this time should not be exposed to water. But I’m sure the camera can withstand about a certain amount of water. Where I have prepared equipment to wipe the water or prevent it from being exposed to too much water. But what I’m worried about is if it rains, will Auntie Jeab and her friends be able to skateboard down the hill? Because the water makes the road slippery. It’s greatly increasing the risk of harm.
“Dangerous, but we play,” Auntie Jeab replied with bright eyes. Looks lively, not different from a teenager who is addicted to some new toy.
We arrived at the temple around 1.30 PM. The black clouds floated away from our play area. Today, there are 2 skateboarders, Auntie Jeab and Mon. Mon is Auntie Jeab’s nephew and started skateboarding downhill since he was 10 years old. At that time, Mon was the youngest downhill skateboarder in the country. Now he is 20 years old. I want to shoot Auntie Jeab at the highest speed possible from this route, about 60-80 kilometers per hour which is difficult to take. And the only way to do this is I have to sit on a motorcycle that drives parallel to Auntie Jeab while going downhill.
But since I have never shot high-speed sports and have to shoot at such a close range, it took me a while to adjust. But the speed and accuracy of the X-S20’s autofocus system contributed greatly to making it easier to work with, especially when shooting on a motorcycle that is constantly bumping and jerking. Causing me not to worry too much about holding the camera still. I was able to concentrate on catching the expressions of Auntie Jeab and Mon’s eyes while using the highest speed. We were lucky that day that it didn’t rain. I took pictures of Auntie Jeab and Mon until the daylight ended.
We woke up since 5 AM to prepare equipment to play since morning. Auntie Jeab said that “Playing from morning until evening is normal. Places for downhill skateboarding are usually in the up country. They don’t go out very often. When going to play, they will make an appointment for several days. They play from morning until evening every day”. For me, this trip is considered a documentary shoot with the desire to test the quality of the camera. Today is a good opportunity to test the performance of a camera battery that uses only 1 battery with fully camera performance. How long can the battery last?
Today we have two more skateboarders, Men, young dark skin. One year younger than Mon, who wants to work as a trailer driver with Uncle Joon, a middle-aged graffiti artist. He rode Vespa from different districts to skate with us. Having friends join in on the fun creates a surprisingly lively atmosphere. Naturally, any downhill skateboarder will be able to read the pose of the person in front of him. What is he going to do, such as what kind of balance is to slow down or increase speed or to divert left and right? Therefore, being able to be careful and avoid each other in time. But for me, who has never had any experience with wheel slats. To film 3-4 skateboarders downhill together on a small two-lane street, with me on a bike trying to flank the skater, added to the intimidation of myself. Because that means the motorcycle is running almost at the edge of the road. And everyone moves fast, they brake, they slow down, they get excited too.
Other skateboarders may be more concerned with the style of doing tricks. But for Auntie Jeab, training to keep breaking her own top speed record is the only goal.
That evening, when the light was almost gone, the rain began to pour down. Auntie Jeab still enjoys playing. As for me, to prevent mistakes. I had to hurry to check that I was getting all the shots I wanted. I found that the battery was still left, and I got all the photos I wanted. Soon the rain began to intensify. We therefore concluded that it was better to go back home. So, we have to say bye and Auntie Jeab heading back to Bangkok.
Throughout the 2 days of taking photos with Auntie Jeab and her friends. On the downhill path, about 2 kilometers long, at such a speed that if you slipped through the curve, it would hurt. Instead, it made me feel surprisingly focused, as if time stood still. Age is meaningless. Meeting someone like Auntie Jeab and a skater who is determined to practice doing something he loves. It made me feel young and feel many possibilities. So, if you feel exhausted my advice is you should think about when you start doing it. Along with asking yourself what you did for.
“Auntie Jeab, why did you choose to skate at the risk of getting hurt like this?”
“It was fun, it was very exciting.”
Auntie Jeab who survived death from breast cancer answer me with a simple answer. But the look in her eyes was as bright as the eyes of a child who wanted to go out and learn about the world.
Auntie Jeab at the age of 67 made me feel like age is meaningless. The downhill road is about 2 kilometers long, where occasionally there will be cars passing by that make it feels like time has stopped. All skateboarders focus on their best when going downhill. Because if you miss at that speed could mean harm to the body.