“Surat Osathanugrah was entrusted with many things by his father. One was a company that he transformed into a major pharmaceutical empire. Another was a Kodak camera given to him at the age of 10—[one] that he used to transform s boyhood curiosity into a photographic talent and secure his future as one of Thailand’s foremost shutterbugs.” – Bangkok 101, December 2005
A little over 10 years ago, Surat Osathanugrah sent a series of stunning black-and-white photos to an old teakwood home on Soi Langsuan,a former ambassador’s residence that was now the headquarters of a burgeoning Bangkok 101. His collection “Water Ways,” which graced pages 12 to 19 of the first 72-page edition of the magazine, examined life along the khlongs. In the still laughter of children riding in a ramshackle boat, the wizened grin of an old woman washing her studded silver bowl, and the eyes of a young girl rising out of the water like a crocodile on the hunt, the remarkable photographer searched for his own past. It was a personal journey away from the towering totems of modern nobility and into memories of a childhood spent splashing around in the canals.
Khun Surat was no ordinary street photographer. Founder of Bangkok University, former president of the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand, and minister of various government agencies, he got a relatively late start in the field. Credit that to decades devoted to carrying on his father’s legacy and laying a foundation for success for his children. Though it may have taken 70 years for him to first share his work with the public, once he embarked on a career in the arts, he rose to great heights.
“Water Ways” set a benchmark for all future photo features in Bangkok 101. Khun Surat’s shots were endowed with the human element, succeeding in ways that many do not—by effecting an immediate and personal reaction from the audience. In fact, those who have visited the new headquarters of Bangkok 101, down a tapering soi in the quiet recesses of a rapidly transforming Sathorn district, will doubtless recall the massive black-and-white print of an exuberant group of boys in underwear, each preparing to leap, spread-eagle, from a concrete block into a quiet canal—one of the most fun images from “Water Ways,” and also the first cover shot of the magazine.
It’s only fitting that the photo feature in this issue, celebrating 10 years of accomplishments in print, honours the life and work of Surat Osathanugrah, who passed away in 2008. Khun Surat lives on as one of Thailand’s greatest street photographers. His award-winning shots reached far across the globe, and now they return to the pages of Bangkok 101, the magazine they helped set in motion.