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A revered photographer remembers (Part 2)

A revered photographer remembers (Part 2)

Nopniwat Krailerg and Preeyanoot Jittawong

Boonserm as a young man.

In August, 1962, one of Boonserm Satrabhaya’s greatest achievements as a reporter took place when he entered the forest searching for the Mlabri (Yellow Leaf people), the last group of wild people in Thailand, of whom only about 300 still remain. He learned about this group of people from Kraisri Nimmanheminda, a well known banker in Chiang Mai who had read the story of Mlabri from a book written by a foreign anthropologist and his Australian wife in 1936. That book stated that the Mlabri were in Nan province of Thailand so the banker questioned how foreigners knew about this group but Thais had never heard about it? He requested Boonserm to investigate these people and publish their story for the Thai people.

Border patrol police were asked to search and survey where the Mlabri could be found. The first point of search was in Na Noi district, Boonserm was guided by hill tribesmen and they had to camp in the forest before reaching their destination. A week passed and finally they came across nine Mlabri warriors, strong well set up men who could speak the Thai local language. Boonserm wrote the story about the Mlabri for Khon Muang newspaper, illustrated with his own photographs, and he also took movie film of the event.

After that, another daily newspaper, Siang Ang-thong (now Thairath) wished to publish the story and Thais became very interested. On one occasion, the King and Queen visited Phuping Palace and Kraisri (the banker) presented the movie for them. The King said that it should be a color movie recorded from the Mlabri’s location. In 1963, Kraisri invited foreign specialists and doctors to travel with Boonserm to remake the movie in color. Boonserm also took some pictures and added more information, earning him the Best National Feature of the Year prize in 1962. He was the first regional journalist to receive this award and he is very proud of this achievement.

A picture of the 93rd division of Taipei ready to surrender and return to Taiwan.

Other great photographic moments took place throughout his lifetime. He was chuckling as he remembered that in 1953 Chiang Mai province had assigned him to release flysheets from a helicopter promoting the Winter Fair, but he was so interested in taking pictures (his famous one of Chiang Mai’s Nawarat Bridge comes from this occasion) that he forgot about the flysheets so the helicopter had to fly around several times.

A fire at Ton Lam Yai Market.

His last position as a reporter, after working for several newspapers and publishing several books, was with Thai News Publishing. He said that he had never studied photography but just gained experience on his own. Some locations and scenes that were not interesting to other people interested him and, as a result, he now has a unique portfolio of historical and ethnic photographs.

Songkran Festival on Wittayanon Rd. showing a polite Songkran in those days.

Between 1950 to 1987 he had taken pictures without printing them, simply developing films to check the exposure. If any picture appeared not perfect then he would retake it and he archived them all very carefully. One of his nephews asked for some of these pictures to make a Calendar for the Year 1987 and some were used. When Pairat Techarin was Chiang Mai governor, he requested these old pictures be put on display for residents because he saw other countries showing historical pictures for new generations. Until Chiang Mai Governor Wirachai Naewboonian’s period, he continued this tradition by holding exhibitions at Kad Suan Kaew Department Store as more people showed interest in these historical pictures.

Press Jeep used to get the news about Taipei troops fleeing in Burma.

Boonserm added that he wants the new generation to record pictures of today for the next generation, but he does not see anyone interested in this job because it depends on personal interest and not a desire for immediate wealth. He suggested, “If you walk anywhere and see an empty area then you should just take a picture because there may be a building there or some changes in the future and the original image, which was much more important, would be lost.”

“I still enjoy taking pictures but now I don’t have much time because I have to put all my photographs in order,” Boonserm concluded.

Interested persons can contact him on 053-242850 or 09-3709725. His studio is located at Chareunmuang Rd. Soi 8, first house from the right hand side.

Boonserm with his flying gear as a young man.

A fire at Ton Lam Yai Market, from another angle.

Nawarat Bridge in the past.

First aerial shot of Nawarat Bridge taken by Boonserm.

Chiang Mai’s different images between condominiums and slums.

A helmet used in World War I.

Boonserm’s buddy to produce news – his typewriter.

Yellow Leaf people’s lifestyle.