The pictures are not made to disturb people’s consciences but rather to disturb their consciousness. The pictures do not ask to ‘help’ those people, but something much more difficult; to be briefly and intensely aware of their existence, and existence as real and significant as their own, a photography curator and critic Hugh Edwards noted in 1966. This statement could be applied to the work of generations of photographers, especially those whose images reflect how deeply they engaged in given situations and how strongly they managed to connect with people they documented. The images that come to mind are those associated with a genre of participatory documentary, historic but timeless works by Walker Evans, Robert Frank, or Danny Lyon. Karol Grygoruk, with his work I Love You Dad follows in their footsteps.
When Grygoruk started working on the project at the beginning of 2016, the turning point in the Thai society was already to be sensed: the health of Bhumibol Adulyadej, one of the longest reigning king’s in the world, was failing. Thus, changes seemed inevitable in Thailand – a country of paradoxes. On the one hand, Thailand is one of the most dynamic economies in Southeast Asia. On the other side of this seemingly more progressive reality are those who were left behind: people counted in millions, who survive in extreme poverty, deprived of basic human rights: of education, of gender equality, and of freedom of speech. What they have in common is one thing: they all say without any hesitation that they love the King. They have to.
Article 112 of Thailand’s criminal code says that anyone who defames, insults or threatens the king, the queen, the heir-apparent or the regent faces up to 15 years in prison. In the year 2017 Thailand’s lèse-majesté laws remain among the strictest in the world. Complexity of the power relations, and an ambiguous coexistence of the faces of the regime seem to be contradictory. Grygoruk captured this paradox, showing that under the surface created according to the paradigm of power, there is a world that remains unseen, especially to Western tourists. He captures the troubling coexistence of obedience and resistance, documenting the social groups that show the shattered layers of the Thai society: people from the slum areas, lady boys, prostitutes, and teenagers fascinated by the Western culture. Using photography and, perhaps even most importantly, his sociological eye – Grygoruk managed to develop a significant language in his photography, a narrative filled with symbols that transcend the cultures: the one he documents, and the one that he originates from. His images may seem straightforward, yet they are always multi-layered, the situations he documents may seem intimate, yet they become universal, the stories he depicts may seem location specific, yet they are timeless.
Through individual stories we get the bigger picture, not only about the universal mechanisms of power, but also about the constantly revolving wheel of history that unfolds right in front of our eyes. Perhaps when we stop and take a closer look, we may also change its path.