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Glass Plate Negatives: Stories That Transcend Time Exhibition

Glass Plate Negatives: Stories That Transcend Time Exhibition

Curator: Thanpuying Sirikitiya Jensen

In July 2018, an exhibition was organized by the National Archives of Thailand and Sirivadhanabhakdi Foundation, Thai Beverage PLC, and The Memory of World Programme of UNESCO at the National Gallery (Bangkok) to celebrate the registration of national glass plate negatives as UNESCO’s Memory of the World in 2017. Every year thereafter, The National Archives plans to open boxes of glass plate negatives in consecutive order, thereby selecting 1000 photos of which will be further curated for the public. This exhibition is a curation of glass plate photos selected by the National Archives for this year, and in a collaboration with Sirivadhanabhakdi Foundation, Thai Beverage PLC, The Royal Photographic Society of Thailand and The Photographic Arts Foundation

This exhibition focuses on changes, and Siam as it gradually moves towards a unique blend of ‘East meets West.’ The intention is to create a historic journey that takes place in the present within the Bangkok Arts & Cultural Center, a journey which showcases the defining experiences and aspects of life in the late 19th century and early 20th century Siam. 

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The audience moves in parallel with His Majesty King Chulalongkorn as he travels throughout Siam with his family, an experience that is both calm and intimate. HM The King’s travels end in disruption, which serves to be reflective of the change in Siam. Change is neither immediate nor abrupt, however, as the audience unhurriedly experiences a range of emotions: a sense of stillness from every day,  a sense of curiosity and fun that comes with the presence of new cultures and perspectives in unexpected places, and an excitement that arises out of movement      and change. In the end, we journey with Siam from the reigns of King Rama IV to King Rama VII as the country moves forward to become what it is today.

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Part A: Travels of HM King Chulalongkorn

Beginning from the period in HM King Mongkut’s reign, we start to see a shift not only within the lives of Siamese people but also within the lives of Siamese monarchs and their families. Interest in and interaction with Western customs and beliefs contributed towards the personalization of Kingship in Siam. Kings and their families began traveling for relaxation and wellness, and palaces were constructed outside the capital of Bangkok, such as Khao Wang (Phra Nakhon Khiri) in Phetchaburi. 

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During the reign of HM King Chulalongkorn, this shift became more evident as the King traveled outside of Bangkok with his family, often traveling ‘incognito’ to be closer to and to be amongst the people. The mood was light and whimsical, and most importantly: personal and warm. 

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We are taking a journey rooted in the present, traveling in parallel with HM King Chulalongkorn as he and his family enjoy the sun and salty air of Si Chung Island, and as they travel to Kamphaeng Phet wherein they explore historic sites and perform theatrical productions amongst one another. Towards the end of this journey, there is a shift in mood to one of melancholy. HM King Chulalongkorn suffers the loss of many of his children including H.R.H. Prince Urubhongse Rajasombhoj and H.R.H Princess Srivilailaksana, Princess of Suphan. This is reflective of change and movement and is thus a sign of disruption.

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Part B: Calm Interlude in Siam

An atmosphere of calm is evoked as one experiences the ebb and flow of everyday life within the capital of Bangkok: children playing, monks at temples which date back to the early Rattanakosin and late Ayutthaya periods, and the daily activity of people living alongside the Chao Phraya River. This is an act of intermission, a period of stillness before the change, and movement within the country becomes more pronounced. 

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Part C: East Meets West

Although Westerners, ranging from Christian missionaries to school teachers, had been present in Siam before the reign of HM King Chulalongkorn, it was during HM The      King’s reign that one sees an increase in the integration of Westerners into the daily life and culture. HM King Chulalongkorn introduced Europeans with a plethora of skills and abilities, such as architects and artists from Italy, bringing them into the country to work in conjunction with Siamese people. This ‘east meets west’ continued, reaching its zenith during the reigns of HM King Chulalongkorn and his sons, HM King Vajiravudh and HM King Prajadhipok.  

We move to and fro, exploring the daily lives of Westerners in Siam, and how they worked and interacted with Siamese people in the early 20th century. There is movement, as Siam becomes a blend of Eastern and Western cultures.

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Part D: Moving Forward

The air is suffused with excitement as Siam quickly moves forward. And we weave in and out of Bangkok as the railway system begins to expand outwards.

Siam had experienced an expansion of the railway system which began during HM King Chulalongkorn’s reign, culminating in a unified and vast network during the reign of HM King Vajiravudh. The construction of the railway reflects Western influence in two ways, both physical and ideological. The most evident influence is the use of Western materials and technology for the railway itself. However, the more subtle influence is that the railway enabled the realization of the Western idea of a “nation-state” pursued by Asian rulers of the period by connecting the periphery to the center. Governance can be centralized and the project of unifying the culture and administration of the country can begin. Siam had thereby become more connected and thus unified, leading to growth in mass tourism and large scale development which expanded beyond the capital. 

And yet, amidst all of the modernization and movement, we see the Siamese people go through the everyday motions of life: sorting through documents at work and going to the cinema to enjoy the steady influx of western movies.

For more information, please contact

The National Archives of Thailand

Tel. 02-2811599

Email: contact@nat.go.th

Website: www.nat.go.th

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Kullaya Kassakul
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