In mid-July I was lucky enough to spend some time exploring the Khlong Toei slums in Bangkok. Khlong Toei means “the canal of pandan” due to the plant having grown on the southern bank of the canal it’s situated on. A harsh contrast to the corruption that seems to run rampant in Bangkok’s core, the slums seemed to portray a level of honesty and warmth unexpected from such levels of poverty.
Myself and two other photographers set out early one morning to dodge the harsh sun and to catch some decent morning light. One of them had been living in Bangkok for a number of years and his Thai proved invaluable in our little journey, both for directions and acceptance from the locals. As expected from the Thai, the people here were remarkably friendly. The unfortunate reality is that this area has now turned into somewhat of a tourist destination. My goal was far from taking advantage of the locals’ circumstance, but rather to capture a certain level of happiness and honesty I hadn’t found in the wealthier parts of Bangkok.
We knew the midday heat was going to be far too hot to be comfortable, so we set out before sunrise to catch the light and miss the heat. Our little journey initially started along the river whist winding under several large roads and intersections. Garbage was strewn and the water was equally dirty, if not more so.
It was a Saturday morning and the people here were relaxed. The children were playing, the women chatting and the men drinking. We came across monks on their way to temple and men tattooed up to their ears, cock fights under bridges and graciously offered free tattoos from the new friends we’d made. We came across empty make-shift boxing rings, “training starts at 3pm”, they said. Families were looking after children and were clearly expecting the vicious heat as most had found shelter in the shade where they could.
We treated the locals with respect and were offered so much more in return (not only tattoos). It’s incredibly humbling spending time with individuals like these who have so little monetarily yet live incredibly rich lives. Their outlook, energies and treatment of others is truly a testament to the dangers of corruption that wealth and power can offer.
I’d recently acquired my Leica M6 a few short weeks before this trip so I really got to put it through its paces. The build quality of the body truly made shooting an absolute pleasure as it feels as though that not even the harshest of conditions would cause it to fail. The viewfinder is by far the best on any rangefinder I’ve used in the past. It’s crystal clear, and made focusing with my 35mm lens pure joy. Last but not least, the shutter sound is both stealthy and satisfying in use. It makes getting up close and personal and nailing that shot far easier when the subject isn’t aware of any foreign sounds. That slightly dull click and thud on release is addictive to say the least.
My subject matter tends to gravitate towards people and places like these. As an expat living in Asia, I’ve always been put off by the promise of luxury in areas with such obvious degrees of financial separation between demographics. Hong Kong too suffers from the same thing. I try to capture (in my opinion) what’s real and what’s honest. Let’s not forget what truly goes one in the world.
I hope these images have done the same.
My name is Gideon de Kock. I’m a South African born street photographer based in Hong Kong with a penchant for portraiture, still life and back-alleys.