A few months ago, Brooklyn-based photographer Cait Oppermann accompanied a photographer to Thailand’s capital city, Bangkok, to assist on his commercial job. She found time in between assisting to explore a new place and make personal work. “I went there on a job and fell in love with it,” Oppermann told PDN via email. “I’m currently applying for grants to go back.” Though Oppermann could not reveal any details of the shoot (the client asked that she sign an NDA), she was able to share some tips about her experience.
Photo District News: Had you ever been to Bangkok before?
Cait Oppermann: This was my first trip to Bangkok and Thailand. I went for work and if not for that, I don’t know that Thailand would have ever been on my radar of places to go.
PDN: What kind of gear did you bring for the trip?
CO: I only brought film on this trip, which would be great for almost any other city, but just kind of a bad idea for Bangkok. I shoot medium format for all of my personal work, and this was the only time I’d ever regretted not bringing my digital [camera] along. Bangkok is beautiful and amazingly interesting during the day, but it’s truly a night city.
There are these beautiful, bright white tube lights all over the city and the way the light spills down onto the street is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It really felt like being on a film set. I shot so much film that I kept having to run around the city looking for more places that had it. Honestly, the camera I used the most was just my iPhone. Film at night is beautiful, but everything in Bangkok is moving all the time, so 400 ISO film felt very limiting.
PDN: Can you describe how Bangkok is truly a “night” city?
CO: The city comes alive at night, perhaps because of the heat during the day. I spent each night wandering around various neighborhoods, stopping for hours at a time to watch soccer or Sepak Takraw, which is a Thai sport that is like volleyball but players use their feet instead of their hands.
On my last night, I stayed out late and hung around by myself outside the National Stadium BTS Station where there’s always a soccer game being played. I bought a cheap tripod at the mall next door and wandered back to a building a few blocks away. I looked inside and saw that there was an older men’s soccer tournament going on, which piqued my interest. I got a few confused looks from the people at the door but I just stayed and watched for a while. I made a friend outside who let me take photos of him kicking the ball around the parking lot. I’ve never been a place that was more welcoming than Thailand.
PDN: You have a wide range of images from the trip. How did you go about editing for the series?
CO: I photographed a lot of things in Bangkok because so many things interested me. Thailand is such an amazingly efficient and sophisticated place. Everything from grabbing lunch to their transportation systems are just perfectly crafted. I was really interested in that cross between Thai culture with Western influence and the effects of international tourists. Bangkok is a balance of old and new and I really wanted to look at that closely. The grouping of photos I’ve edited down to shows both traditional Thai culture and the markings of Western influence, for better or worse.
While the photos are fine-art works, they convey how I illustrate a subject as a whole in a way that crosses over to my editorial assignments. I like having the freedom to zoom in and out of a subject and cover it, from the minute details to the overarching themes that hit you over the head. I like seeing something as a sum of its parts, and Bangkok is a complex sum of so many parts.