Manit Sriwanichpoom's series of black and white portraits of Thailand's leading visual artists is far more than a collection of happy-snaps of artists posing with their work.
Our number one agente-provocateur forces his contempoaries to use their bodies as a means of self-expression.
His interpretations hack away at social sensitivities like mad axe man at a slaughter fest, as he embarks on a stunningly visual tour-de-force.
Asia's formost photo-artist, who was recently included in Blink, a book on the world's 100 most exciting contemporary photographers, talks to Josef Ng about the motivations behind his latest exhibition, "In Your Face".

What's in your face? What's in your face, shoved through the camera in my face,
exclaims Manit Sriwanichpoom,Thailand's leading conceptual photoartist as he explains the subject of his current exhibition'InYour Face', showing at the Nunthong Gallery this month.

Manit has come a long way from his early days as a front-line photo-journalist, dodging bullets to take shots (photo's that is) on the Thai-Cambodian border in 1982,
to his new rank on the boundary-breaking barricades of Asia's art-scenes avantgarde. In fact, he recently surpassed this status, becoming an artistic Uberlord when he was published as the only South East Asian photoartist, in Phaidon Press's prestigious book Blink which showcases the work of the world's most exciting rising stars in contemporary photography.

InYour Face'takes a typical Manit-style approach to his subject matter - photo portraits of contemporary Thai visual artists.
Rather than plodding along the well trodden done-to-death path of photo- portraits of artists with their work, Manit activiely recontextualises the artist's works and methods into his Own.

"I don't want to use the same format of elements I explored before," explains the 41-year old telescopic trickster.
"You knowjust shooting them against artworks, instruments or whatever pose they like to serve as their representation.

"I thought, why don't I just use artist's bodies to tell a story? Push their bodily gestures more than ever. Not just the face, but the whole entity to reflect their personality, their work," he adds.

And that's exactly what he's done. Not one to shy away from controversy, Manit's work breaches many social taboos, and if art is a hanuner to smash the world with,
then Manit's taking a pneumatic drill to Thailand's cultural conventions. Especially with pieces like that of Chatchai Puipia sucking his toe.

"If art is a hammer to smash the world with, then Manit's taking a pneumatic drill to Thailand's cultural conventions."

In fact, the theme of trying to make sense of society and the world we inhabit, is one of Manit's key exploratory themes.
"The daily struggle to reconcile ourselves with this so-called normal world does threaten to drive me and some of my artist friends close to the edge of reason," he says.

Many themes of Manit's work trace back to the days before he was an established artist - especially his work as a photojournalist and it's influence on his earlier work.
The need to "tell a story" through art is one of his key principles and is evident in his previous work.
But, just as his j oumahstic work, militant approach and hardcore realism in dealing with the grim realities of everyday life have influenced his art, he now uses it,
and his acclaimed status, to bring political struggles and social issues to light,

As an ardent social activist, Manit has organised several public art projects and demonstrations.
Anyone who's been in Thailand long enough, will remember the saga that shrouded the making of the film,The Beach.
Manit did much to fight the environmental destruction wreaked by Leonardo di Caprio's cinematic calamity.
He is also instrumental in the fight against the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration's conversion of the proposed Bangkok Contemporary Art Museum into a car-park-cumshopping mall.

His work has always had a political or controversial edge, including that which first propelled him to international fame,
'The Bloodless War', a black-and-white series based on well-known shots taken during the Japanese Invasion of China and thevietnam War.
Manit used these as a mirror image of the then-econoniic crisis.The relentless poses and movements in the photographs portrayed the sense of incarcerated helplessness and resignation felt by Thai people at the time.
He also produced work for the World Artists For Tibet exhibition at Project 304 in 1998.

However, it is his creation, Pink Man, that he is most commonly associated with.This project, now inimortalised in four different series, and another Metm cover back in October 1998, was modelled by artist and friend, Sompong Tawee.

"Pink Man is my upset and alienated feeling towards the concept of consumerism which has been accepted simply and without consideration by Thai society," he says. "In addition, I intentionally use the colour Pink to subvert the aesthetics of local art."

So back to InYour Face, where he proves that photography is slowly but steadily gaining the recognition it deserves as an art form in its own right.
One that can be seriously considered as collectible as traditional artforms like paintings prints and sculptures.

For his latest exhibition, Manit has chosen some of the most exciting people from Thailand's contemporary art scene,
including the notoriousvasan Sitthiket, famed for his social and political spews; Pinarce Sanpitak, whose profound is synonymous to her paintings of breasts as vessels; a modey crew of performance artists like the Plienbangchang brothers, Chumpon Apisuk and SompongTawee, Pink Man himself

One person that Manit fondly remembers shooting is Michael Shaowanasai, a multidisciplinary artist who works with gay issues.
Manit had to ask him to come back for a second photo session after being dissatisfied with the first.
"I felt I didn't push him enough before and this time I wanted to play with a more surrealist effect, because he always exaggerates his homosexual identity in his work.
If I just photograph him directly, I don't think I can achieve the level of forthrightness." Holding two cucumbers in his crotch seems to have hit the spot for Manit though.
"I want to portray him like a 'demon', seducing the audience."

Artist Kaniin Lerchaiprasert's snap is a closeup image of the artist with his eyes closed as if in an introspective stance.

"They seem no different from village idiots and lunatics who do weird shit around traffic lights. I'm not saying that ?artists are lunatics'.
I wouldn't claim to understand insanity. I have not personally reached that kind of extremity."

"His works always deal with Buddhist philosophy, and initially I had a bit of difficulty thinking about how I was going to shoot him. But during our discussion, I looked at his face and there is a silent yet strong expressiveness and so during the session, I ask him to meditate, which he did, and I just captured that."

This time, the artists' egos go out the window as Manit forces, er... encourages them to play with their inner psyches. Some have to be naked, others perform in front of the camera, while the rest end up presenting themselves in previously unconcievable ways.
Such striking images as the toe-sucking Chatchai, orvasan Sitthiket with a dildo growing from his mouth, are bound to affect the viewer and hopefully make them question their own perception, which is one of Manit's aims.

"It will be the strangeness of their poses that is remembered rather than their faces," he muses. "They seem no different from village idiots and lunatics who do weird shit around traffic lights.
I'm not saying that artists are lunatics. I wouldn't claim to understand insanity. I have not personally reached that kind of extremity"

Reflecting on his career, Manit fondly reveals, "My first photographic exhibition was back in 1982 and in reaching this stage, I'm happy people are finally acknowledging my aspiration because, you know, my work is mostly dealing with political and social issues and they are all very hard subjects.

"It's been a long joumey and at least it confirms that I am in the right direction and that's enough."