The Charismatic Index: Photographic Representations of Power and Status in the Thai Social Order
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One of the conspicuous uses of photographic images in Thailand, apparent in even cursory studies, is for the representation of power. On the surface, this relationship is most explicit in images of the country’s monarch, King Bhumibol Adulyadej (Rama IX, r. 1946–), that seem to appear on every street corner and hang in every office, home, and restaurant in Bangkok.
From the 1950s until the mid-1980s, notions of power in photographic discourse could also be found in the widespread display of images of the country’s military dictators. Although the waning of the Thai military’s dominance over politics, beginning in the late 1970s, led to a reduction of the significance of this type of image, the representation of power continues by way of the widespread circulation of Thailand’s “Hi-So” class, associated with “big business” in a global context.
Examining the maintenance and representation of hierarchies within Thai society, the influence of pre-photographic visual and textual sources is clear. Less clear is how these pre-photographic, or, to borrow Clark’s term, endogenous, sources were reconciled and relativized alongside the exogenous nature of the photographic apparatus itself and the implication of the Euramerican presence it signified. Additionally, the continuing presence of photographs of power, and their role in the production and maintenance of the stratification of Thai society, begs the question of the nature of the shifting, frequently contradictory relationship between these endogenous and exogenous sources in photographic practice in Thailand.
Photography complicates any understanding of relationships between the endogenous and the exogenous, primarily because by its very nature as a technical medium, it is associated with modernity. The time of its arrival in premodern societies is often easily pinpointed, and this moment may then be placed within a causational framework as a turning point in various movements toward modernization. This focus on photography as a “marker” of modernity does not disturb the centrality of Euramerica in many studies of modernity in non-Euramerican contexts, as is it believed that the arrival of photography in Asia was dependent on contact with Euramerica as a condition of technological transfer. In decentering Euramerica as the source of photography’s development in Asian contexts, it is apparent that these understandings underestimate not only the agency of individuals in the selective adoption and mobilization of technologies and styles generally associated with Euramerican modernity, but also the complex relationship between these technologies and local understandings.
Here, the relationship between endogenous and exogenous discourses is best characterized by what Clark has termed “relativisation.” Implicit is the recognition that the very choice to adapt certain technologies or styles from a Euramerican context to an Asian one occurs in relation to the needs of the receiving or endogenous, discourse at that particular time. Through such processes, the received or exogenous discourse is filtered through preexisting modes of understanding that are themselves relativized through this contact, and continue to be relativized through future exchanges.
In this way, the terms endogenous and exogenous are not utilized as a means of creating a dichotomy between Euramerican modernity and its “others.” Rather, they describe the discursive construction of visual discourses within particular historical and geographical contexts. The construction of “inside” and “outside” in relation to nationally defined visual landscapes is, in fact, a political process. As the vast influence of Chinese, Hindu, and Brahmanic sources on so-called endogenous Thai culture testifies, the exogenous may itself, over time, become endogenous through a process of relativization. In the Thai context, Herzfeld defines this problem:
Thus, the question of whether certain habits of thought are “Thai Buddhist” or “Western,” while grounded in the historical processes that have indeed led to contemporary understandings, must today be read as an argument about contested idioms of legitimation. What people say about origins is one part, and only one, of what they do with them. Origins are perhaps less important than the ways and contexts in which both the discourse and its attributed origins are deployed.
The representation of power through Thai photographic practice has, within different historical and political contexts, relied to varying degrees on endogenous and exogenous sources of legitimization. Following on Herzfeld, I will discuss the history of conventions for the photographic representation of power in Thailand and the political conditions that determined their relationships to endogenous and exogenous sources.
The Traibumikhatha and Barami in Pre-photographic Discourse
The most significant text informing the structure of Thai society is the Traibumikhatha (The Three Worlds According to King Ruang). First compiled in Siamese from Pali sources in the fourteenth century, it is known as Thailand’s oldest book and comprises a detailed description of the Theravadin Buddhist cosmology, from the material world, including various hells and our own material world, to the semimaterial heavens populated by thewada, or angels, to the nonmaterial world of Nibbana, the source of enlightenment. Movement among these worlds occurs through successive rebirths: one’s position within the hierarchy is determined by the merit (bun) or demerit (bap) accrued in past lives. As a quantifiable “tally” of positive or negative moral behavior, one’s karmic points determine the degree of joy or anguish to be experienced in subsequent lifetimes.
Just as the structure of the Ayutthayan and later Siamese city mirrored the Theravadin concept of the universe constructed around the center of Mount Meru, the cosmological structure of the Traibumikhatha was mirrored in the Ayutthayan and Siamese sakdina (loosely, “feudal”) system. Within this system, social position was determined through the conferring of “dignity marks.” These were related not only practically to the quantifiable area of an individual’s landholdings, but also ideologically to the number of men under his control. Thus, wealth and power were legitimized through associations with Buddhist notions of karma and were given ethical value as manifestations of good deeds from previous lives, and correspondingly the increased ability for self-reliance, and the ability to participate in merit-making ceremonies. At the apex was the Cakkavatti king, whose merit and virtue secured his place at the top of this cosmological system and conferred merit and protection on his people.
The maintenance of this cosmological structure relied on the notion of barami, loosely translated as “charismatic power.” As Jory has written, the concept of barami, derived from the Pali word parami, is rooted in the Theravada scriptural tradition and refers to the virtues accumulated by a bodhisattva, or Buddha-to-be, in order to attain enlightenment. Despite its cosmological implications, barami was extremely significant politically. Given that a Buddhist king’s possession of barami was the basis for his claim to the throne, his lack of it would become the rallying point for his enemies to dispose of him. Because of the lack of dynastic principle in the courts of Ayutthaya (c. 1350–1767) and Thonburi (c. 1768–82), as well as throughout the Bangkok period (c. 1783– present), the representation and maintenance of one’s barami was a crucial means by which political and social power was maintained or seized.
Barami could be indicated in both material and relative ways. Because those with greater merit were also seen as able to reach greater understandings of Dharmic principles and were thought to be less “attached” to the material world, by submitting or showing respect to those above them individuals were able to receive protection, shelter, and guidance from those closer to Nibbana. In the same way that sakdina points were assigned in relation to the number of people under an individual’s control, here barami was seen as both produced through and reflected in that person’s network of power and influence over others. Within a patron–client paradigm, barami operated as a “ladder of reciprocity” between individuals whereby the patron provided aid and protection and the client paid back in tangible or intangible forms.” In other words, the greater one’s network of influence and wealth, the greater one’s barami.
In this way, barami may be viewed in terms of an ability to “make things happen” through networks of connections and owed favors. As Hanks explains:
From the top to bottom groups dwindle in size and stability. The organization is like the leaves, twigs, branches and boughs of a great oak. One may trace a linear path from the heart of the tree outward to any leaf; each leaf, twig and branch standing at a unique distance from the heart, receives varying amounts of nourishment. In the frail twigs at the ends of the branches is found the greatest fragility, while the heart and adjoining boughs safely stand through many storms.
It is for this reason that a male’s barami was usually associated with the number of wives or mistresses accumulated through polygamous practices. Not only did keeping many wives imply financial wealth, but the children of those wives and mistresses would also significantly increase his network of influence and, consequently, barami. In a similar way, barami is linked to merit making (tham bun) by giving alms to monks or, indeed, giving more generally. This practice was highly competitive, with the frequency and size of the alms acting reciprocally, to increase merit and power within a karmic system and to indicate the wealth of the individual able to make donations.
Just as the concept of barami influenced relationships within the Ayutthayan and later Siamese social systems, it had a significant impact on the positioning of the kingdoms in relation to the rest of the world. Prior to the demarcation of the country’s state borders, Siam’s kingdom was understood as a “sacred topography,” determined by the king’s influence or barami radiating from the center of the kingdom. In this spatial understanding, his influence was strongest at the center of the kingdom and got progressively weaker toward its edges. As with the individual client–patron relationships, weaker princes under the king’s influence would send tributes to the strong center in order to demonstrate respect and to ensure their protection. As Jory writes:
Political relationships were also phrased using the language derived from the theory of the king’s Perfections. Princes or vassals who submitted to the overlordship of the king were said to phun phrabarami, or “to come under the protection” of the king’s barami. Enemies of the king were said not to “believe in” the king’s barami, while defeated armies are depicted as being unable to stand up to the king’s barami.
Although among his vassal states the Siamese king represented himself ideologically as the supreme ruler, he was aware of his position in relation to other regional leaders. In fact, until the mid-nineteenth century, Siamese kings would send tributes to the Chinese emperor in order to place themselves securely within his sphere of barami and through a reciprocal relationship associate themselves with his power.
Materially, barami was associated with physical appearance, particularly notions of beauty and deportment. These are linked not only through the belief that beauty is associated with wealth and therefore karmic inheritance but also because of the primacy given to the sense of sight within Buddhism. As Grey writes:
[T]he visual takes precedence over other sensory dimensions in the communication process in the temple complex. This is in accordance with Thai-Buddhist concepts of power, in which sight is the dominant idiom, “the leading organ” (nayana) of perception, and in accordance with the disproportionate emphasis placed in the taming of the “eye” faculty over other of the sensory doors in meditation techniques.
In the Traibumikhatha, place within the cosmological hierarchy is indicated by social position and physical attributes. The “true” Cakkavatti king is “very handsome, like Lord Indra when he rides on his elephant named Eravana surrounded by the devata (angels) who are his followers.” Those without such merit, as a result of evil deeds in past lives, are “born in desperate straits, have no clothes to cover themselves, have nothing to eat, are terribly destitute, and have an ugly figure and appearance.”
This relationship between acquisition of merit and physical appearance is evident in Thai mural paintings. Representations of people at the upper levels of spiritual attainment—among them kings and queens, bodhisattvas, and gods and goddesses—consist of profiled faces, graceful poses, and fine standardized features. These figures are in contrast to commoners, who are frequently depicted grotesquely in a manner reflecting their “bestial” nature. These distinctions were also drawn onto the spiritual geography, mentioned above: those physically closer to the king and under the “umbrella” of his barami are depicted as graceful, civilized, and beautiful; those residing farther away are seen, often in a forest, as heathens: that is, wild and uncivilized.
Visualizing Barami through Photography
The importance and power of sight as related to barami was reinforced by the Siamese taboo surrounding the public representation of the royal personage, which lasted until King Mongkut’s decision (Rama IV, r. 1851–68), in 1856, to have his photograph taken. It is no surprise, then, that until the Fourth Reign, no notable tradition of portraiture existed beyond standardized figures in murals and perhaps the tabooed royal-ancestor images for the eyes of the monarch. As Clark persuasively argues, the introduction of the camera to Thailand and the photographing of its monarchs demonstrate transference of the iconic power of the tabooed royal body to the indexical function of the photograph.
Here, there is a slippage between readings of the photographic image as a trace or index “of” something and the photographic image as an icon standing “for” something. This is a result of the photographic image’s incorporation into certain social circuits where the substitution of one method of iconic control, the taboo, for another, the laws of lèse-majesté, establishes hegemonic control of the metonymic photographic image as reference to an original living icon. In this case, as Clark argues, there is a kind of reversal in Benjamin’s theory concerning the “aura” of the image, where the image actually “gains status with reproduction rather than loses it.”
In reference to the king’s position at the top of the Thai cosmological structure and as the human embodiment of divinity, it becomes clear that the iconic power of his body is read as a physical manifestation of his barami. That this barami was then able to become manifest in the image is demonstrated by the ritualistic treatment of photographs of Thai kings. As early as the 1920s, the king’s portrait was used to decorate tables at festivals, as Wales observes:
One more method of paying homage to deceased kings in Siam remains to be mentioned: the setting of a photograph or lithograph of the particular king on a table, before which are made the usual offerings of lighted candles, flowers, and incense. This is now a very popular custom, both in government institutions and private houses, since every Siamese home possesses at least a cheap lithograph and can thus show its loyalty in this easy and practical manner. . . . Indeed, the supposition that some part of the royal “soul” (if one may be permitted to use this loose term) might possibly inhabit the portrait would be an added stimulus to paying homage before it. It is also a modern means of expressing what remains of the worship of the living King, for whenever it is desired to honour him, especially on the occasion of a royal procession, portraits of the King set up on tables may be seen at almost every Siamese doorway on the route.
Morris has also analyzed a daguerreotype of King Mongkut that was sent to Queen Victoria in 1857. The image was treated with gold leaf, in line with Buddhist consecration practices in which gold leaf is transferred to Buddha images. This practice is still in use today: photographs of King Bhumibol are displayed in temples alongside Buddha images, and devotees treat both with gold leaf as a means of showing respect and making merit.
Modernization, Photography, and Shifting Cosmological Perspectives
It is important not to overstate the ease with which the photographic medium was adopted by Siamese monarchs and integrated into endogenous discourses concerning the visual representation of barami. Much has been written about the initial reluctance of local populations to adopt photographic practices and to have their photographs taken. Indeed, as Morris has written: “[T]he camera was perceived as much an instrument of European aggressivity and the occult power of technology as any other weaponry in the colonial arsenal.” This is seen, too, in the ten-year interval between the introduction of the camera to Siam in 1845 upon the orders of the French bishop Pallegoix, who was stationed in Bangkok, and the first photograph of King Mongkut in 1855. This gap was likely due to King Mongkut’s predecessor, King Jessadabodindra’s (Rama III, r. 1824–51) distrust of photographic technology and, more generally, of Euramerican technological modernity.
I would go further and point to the importance of the conceptual and visual shift implicit in King Mongkut’s decision to have his photograph taken. To borrow from Batchen’s argument concerning the invention of photography in the European context, the mere ability to photograph or the presence of photographic technology is not enough to impel the “desire” to photograph. In other words, Batchen understands the adoption of photography in Europe not in terms of the medium’s invention, but rather as reliant on certain conceptual and metaphorical shifts from which the “desire” to photograph emerged. In Siam, this points away from a simplistic technological determination of the photographic medium as easily absorbed into pre-photographic visual discourses and toward the recognition of Pinney’s contention that photography is “a technical practice that disturbs culture.”
There were several aspects to the conceptual shift leading to King Mongkut’s decision. These corresponded with the monarch’s, and his court’s, acceptance of Euramerican modernity, and were also directly related to the increased colonial presence in Southeast Asia. Most significant was a change in the Siamese elite’s conception of itself in relation to the rest of the world, in what Pratt has termed a shift in “planetary consciousness.” Observing Britain’s defeat of China by the 1850s, King Mongkut stopped sending tributary missions to the Chinese emperor and recalibrated the Siamese notion of civilization (siwilai) as located in Euramerica. This was soon followed by the signing of trade agreements with European countries, beginning in 1855 with the Bowring Treaty with Britain. This demonstrated the increasing openness of Siam’s elite to Euramerican ideas and technology, and, as some academics have argued, established the country as, in effect, a semi-colony. The Siamese elite’s desire to attain siwilai, however, “was not simply a reaction to the colonial threat. Rather, it was an attempt originated by various groups among the elite . . . to attain and confirm the relative superiority of Siam.”
The “desire” for photography in Siam may then be located within a particular nexus of historical and social developments, and photography’s increasing popularity with the country’sthe country’s elite may be seen as part of a wider interest in Euramerican products as symbols of “civilization.”
As discussed above, in photographs, King Mongkut’s barami was signified by the ritualistic practices surrounding these images. Given that the impetus behind the king’s decision to have himself photographed likely derived from his desire to establish Siam’s position as a modern, “civilized” nation these images were also significantly influenced by Euramerican conventions for the representation of power. The most important function of these images was thus their operation in networks of photographic exchange between heads of state, as a means developing friendly relationships with “civilized” nations and establishing the Siamese monarchy as members of a class of modern leaders within the “Victorian ecumene.”
King Mongkut may have become aware of this practice as well as Euramerican conventions for representing power through his receipt of many photographs and photographic apparatus from various world leaders, the first of which, in March 1856, were two photographs and a daguerreotype camera presented to him by Henry S. Parkes on behalf of Queen Victoria. In June 1855, the first daguerreotype of the monarch, sitting stiffly and uncomfortably in Siamese dress, was sent to President Franklin Pierce. In the following years, the monarch was photographed multiple times and the photographs distributed to Euramerican leaders, among them Queen Victoria in 1857, the pope in 1861, and Emperor Napoleon III in 1861.
By 1865, when he was photographed by John Thomson, King Mongkut was well aware of the way in which he appeared to foreign leaders, and made efforts to control his image in ways that would appeal to Euramerican tastes while signifying his membership in this “civilized” class. As Thomson recalls,
His dress was of a spotless white, which reached right down to his feet: his head was bare. I was admiring the simplicity and purity of this attire, when his majesty beckoned me to approach him, and informed me that he wished to have his portrait taken as he knelt in an attitude of prayer . . . . All was prepared beneath a space in the court, which had been canopied and carpeted for this special purpose; when, just as I was about to take the photograph, his majesty changed his mind, and without a word to anyone passed suddenly out of sight . . . at length the King reappeared, dressed this time in a sort of French field marshal’s uniform. There was no cotton stuff visible about his person now, not even stockings. The portrait was a great success, and his majesty afterwards sat in his court robes, requesting me to place him where and how I pleased.
The photograph utilizes several Euramerican representational conventions for individuals with power: the king’s French-style military uniform, his cane, and the covered table on which was placed his royal regalia. Although few of the portraits of European leaders sent to King Mongkut survive, it is not unreasonable to suggest that he would have been aware of such conventions through both these photographs and his discussions with foreign photographers—possibly Bishop Pallegoix and certainly, as we have seen, John Thomson.
The Siamese monarch’s familiarity with Euramerican modes of photographically representing nobility and power were expanded under King Mongkut’s successor, King Chulalongkorn (Rama V, r. 1853–1910), whose love of photography and the popularity of the medium in his court have been well documented. In the same way as did King Mongkut, King Chulalongkorn frequently presented himself in the garb of European military uniforms, which were later adopted by the Thai armed forces, or dressed as a Euramerican gentleman in top hat and tails, along with conventional props found in European oil portraits of nobility, such as covered tables, military helmets, curtains, columns, and other symbolic indications of Euramerican “civilization.” His integration into the “Victorian ecumene” of civilized leaders was cemented after his tour of European countries in 1897 and again in 1907. He went so far as to commission oil portraits from European artists, sometimes painted from life but often completed from photographs sent from the Siamese court.
As Thongchai has suggested, Euramerican notions of civilization, reinforced by colonialist scientific classification of racialized types and their situation within a hierarchy, were compatible with pre-photographic Siamese social hierarchies and spiritual geographies as outlined by the Traibumikhata. Additionally, given the lack of a Siamese portraiture tradition that contained conventions for the representation of power on the one hand and the recalibration of the Siamese worldview concerning the source of civilization from China to Euramerica on the other, it is not surprising that power came to be represented in the monarch’s photograph through an adoption of Euramerican conventions to signify nobility. Here, the simultaneous presence of barami inscribed on the body of the previously tabooed monarch’s body and the presence of Euramerican accoutrements of power caused a sublimation of these two elements until one came to metonymically signify the other.
Certainly, the modernizing processes of the two monarchs rationalized the cosmological structure of the Tribumikhatha to correspond with Euramerican notions of science and modernity. Rather than removing the system altogether, however, this rationalization simply permitted the expansion of the notion of barami from the royal person to incorporate elite, educated members of the Thai population. As Vandergeest writes:
The pre-national hierarchy of levels of knowledge became associated with movement through linear time, viewing it as the advancement of morality or as progress. In other words, hierarchies of knowledge and morality were not thrown out but reconstituted as movement through time. . . . Unlike the pre-national period, everybody could now potentially learn morality, now also modernity, and achieve progress. At the same time, however, the ruling groups could now attribute to themselves privileged knowledge of modernity and continue to attribute a lack of knowledge to peasants, who were described as superstitious, particularistic (loyal to local groups instead of the nation), and above all backward.
Implicit in this move was the conferring of barami to the possession of wealth by nonroyals. Conversely, poverty was still seen as representative of lack of merit, and members of the lower classes were often characterized by the elite as less than human. In this context, “conspicuous consumption,” to borrow Veblen’s term, became important as a way of exhibiting not only wealth and social position, but also moral status within a cosmological system.
The power of the increased adoption of Euramerican symbols of civilization is demonstrated in King Vajiravudh’s (Rama VI, r. 1910–25) critique of excessive Westernization as a “cult of imitation.” As Jackson rightly points out, such a critique was less about the fear of encroaching Westernization than it was about the loss of Euramerican accoutrements as symbolic of a conspicuous consumption that would distinguish the power of Siam’s elite from the country’s masses. Nevertheless, it was this expansion of the concept of barami to the nonroyal elite and demythologization of the monarchy that led to the military coup in 1932, which established the constitutional monarchy and led to the abdication of King Prajadhipok (Rama VII, r. 1926–35).
Photographic Representations of Power under Plaek Phibun Songkhram
It is difficult to find remnants of the old cosmological system under Field Marshal Phibun Songkhram’s semi-Fascist government after 1939. Images of King Prajadhipok were banned in 1939 and through the writings of Luang Wichit, Phibun—an admirer of Fascist regimes in Japan, Italy, and Germany—promoted his own nationalist vision of the Thai state and his own cult of personality. Phibun’s self-promotion, including the establishment of a national holiday on his birthday, the passing of laws to ensure the display of his picture in homes and offices as well as before the start of films, and his adoption of the dictatorial title phunam (leader), appears much like the propagandistic promotions of the European Fascist states. As a result, the elite’s relationship with the citizens was readjusted:
[The] state and its representative the government [were] elevated to a paramount position above all other social and political elements. The concept of “the state” changed, so that the term was no longer merely legalistic, but now encompassed a wider meaning with ideological implications.
This brief period of weakness in the image of monarchs from the Chakri dynasty opened up the public visual field to include nonroyal men and established the military as a powerful force within Thai politics, and thus within the Thai visual sphere.
Power under Phibun was reconfigured in terms of national historical narratives, and the role of the individual was seen as existing under the power of a benevolent dictator. More important for our purposes, Phibun’s cult of personality established the Thai visual sphere as a powerful political tool. Phibun’s image became the key means to persuade government officials to toe the party line. This focus on the political potential of images meant that refusal to show respect to Phibun’s by not standing when it was displayed before the start of a film or the removal of his picture from public spaces and its replacement with King Ananda’s photograph by the Pridi government in 1946 was seen as a strong political statement. Of course, the strategies used by Phibun in this period, among them the presentation of photographs in homes and offices, were adopted by later governments and combined with the charismatic power inherent in photographs of King Bhumibon to create the iconic power and presence of the monarch’s photograph that exists today.
Relativization of the Cosmological System after 1957
It was not until the coup that established Field Marshal Sarit’s government, in 1957, that we see a return of the Thai cosmological system, although Phibun’s tactics for self-promotion had now considerably influenced it. Firmly establishing the centrality of the monarchy within his official version of Thai nationalism, Sarit announced after his second coup, in 1958, that his government would
above all, strictly adhere to the principle that the Sovereign and the T’ai nation are one and the same inseparable entity. T’ai history is founded on the conception that the Sovereign is the symbol of the nation and the palladium of the T’ai people. The Revolutionary Party shall do all in its power to uphold and cherish this institution and to see to it that the sovereign is held in deepest veneration and that no sacrilege is perpetrated on the Sovereign, the Royal Family and Royal tradition.
As Thak has demonstrated, Sarit’s government developed a symbiotic relationship with the Thai monarchy. This government relied on the monarchy, and on the barami associated with the institution, for legitimacy. Throughout the 1950s and sixties, therefore, it reestablished many of the royal ceremonies and increased the visibility of the royal family via the dissemination of photographs and by sponsoring royal visits to the countryside.
Sarit’s promotion of the monarchy also increased the perception of his own barami and expanded the ability of military political leaders to accumulate theirs through the dissemination of their images and their association with the monarchy. In an important article, Thirayut described the display of photographs of political, military, and police leaders, including Field Marshal Sarit, in the front of photographic studios in order to increase the stores’ business and reputability. Here, a photographic-studio owner paid more attention to the promotion of his store’s connections with high-ranking officials than to developing his photographic skills. As Thirayut suggests, the presence of these images in studios, as well as in nightclubs and restaurants, can be viewed in terms of the dictatorial system operating in Thailand between 1957 and 1973.
This display of photographs of high-ranking officials performed two functions. First, the visual presence of these images in homes and businesses would confer some of the barami possessed by the subject of a photograph onto the person displaying it merely by making explicit visually and physically the association between the two. Second, the multiplicity of disseminated photographs both represented and increased the barami of the subject of a photograph, for the more images of, for example, Field Marshal Thanom or Field Marshal Phraphat, the greater his network of supporters, the greater his ability to influence others, and, consequently, the greater his barami. This mutually beneficial exchange recalls the process of “bestowing merit” or the client–patron relationships that characterized the Ayutthaya and early Bangkok periods.
In this way, the display of images reinforced the hierarchical structuring of Thai society as based on the magical aspects of power and associated with merit, as outlined in the Traibumikhata. The reliance on these notions of power is apparent still, in the language used between elites and non-elites, which was reestablished under Sarit’s government, both in the use of different pronouns for addressing people in higher and lower strata and in the existence of the royal language for addressing and speaking about the royal family. This, as Diller has suggested, operates as a kind of diglossia, in which social stratification is reinforced through the existence of two different languages operating for lower and elite social groups, respectively.
The structuring of Thai society operates on many levels, down to the juristic committee in an apartment complex and various levels in a company. In a company, for example, photographs of employees may be on display in the lobby or foyer of its building and arranged according to rank. This type of categorization and representation served, and in many ways continues to serve, certain political outcomes for the Thai elite. As Nithi writes, the belief in the “magical” qualities of barami—that is, charismatic power—has led to a situation in which more people are willing to use social connections, or “soft power,” to solve problems, rather than rely on lawful avenues. The result of this is twofold: first, the expansion of informal systems of barami results in less powerful people becoming reliant on those with more power for protection and help; second, this system legitimizes an increase in corruption and cronyism within business and politics.
The conflation of political power and barami also has implications for political participation and the transparency of business and political institutions. As Streckfuss has argued,
“[T]ruth” (or dharma) in Thai Theravada Buddhism is apparent only to those who are of pure mind. The average person cannot see the truth through the entanglements of day-to-day living and is often deceived by the apparent reality of the world and the intentions of others. The notion that the truth is only accessible to spiritually powerful people has an enormous impact on the use of defamation laws.
Streckfuss’s comments are reflected in the statements of the director of the Special Branch Police, Lieutenant General Tritos Ronritvichai, who in an interview with the newspaper Prachachart Thurakit on January 23, 2011, said only those who have accumulated enough merit (bun) should have the privilege of reading top-secret documents. Of course, this conflation is obvious in the comparison of unpopular politicians with animals low on the biological hierarchy—for example, monitor lizards and water buffalo—in protests and campaigns as well as proclamations, such as those made by the Buddhist monk Kittivuddho Bhikkhu in the early 1970s, that killing communists is not a sin because of their bestial qualities. In such a context, where access to truth and, consequently, to political power is distributed under the guise of cosmological principles, maintaining the image of one’s barami becomes increasingly important.
Chaya Jittakorn Photographic Studio
The conventions for presenting and building barami through photographs of high-ranking military, police, and government officials are easily observed in the Chaya Jittakorn studio, in the Bangkok suburb of Phahurat. Opened in 1938 by five Sino-Thai immigrants, at the height of its popularity—from the 1960s until the late 1980s—the photographers took pictures of military officers, politicians, and bureaucrats, including ex–prime minister Chatichai Choonhavan.
Although the studio has produced family and advertising photographs as well, its main business consists of taking photographs for identification purposes and as tools to operate within the country’s hierarchical system. Many of these photographs would be given by high-ranking people to their lower-ranking friends and family as gifts on special occasions or as replacement photographs if the givers had earned extra decorations or perhaps a promotion. These images are frequently displayed in a recipient’s home or business to make explicit his connections and facilitate the transference of barami.
The stratified nature of Thai society is also demonstrated visually here in the studio’s window displays. Images of those with a higher rank are arranged toward the top and in a large frame; those lower in rank are presented in smaller frames and closer to the ground. This kind of visual ranking system, which in itself reflects the stratified merit system in the Traibumikhata, is also employed to display pictures of the monarchy in people’s homes: they usually appear high on the walls or above doorways. This positioning is reflected physically in ceremonies that involve the king or members of his family, in which all Thai people must always keep their heads below the monarch’s. The transference here between behaviors associated with the monarch in person and the positioning of the monarch’s image is again evidence of the metonymic relationship between the photograph of the king and his iconic power.
The hierarchical system in Chaya Jittakorn is not absolute, however. Wealth, actual rank, and the presence of decorations combine in a less formal way, which to some extent conforms to the owners’ perception of individual importance and power. Barami here is not deployed as an absolute measurable quality, as is the case of military rank, but rather as a kind of “aura” of perceived influence that depends to a great degree on the political and social positioning of the audience.
The positioning of nonroyal Thais this way recalls interactions with royal persons and demonstrates the considerable influence of the monarchy’s image in structuring relations and visual conventions for representing power. Clark explains this phenomenon:
Thai public discourse positioned self-representation as a ceremonial incarnation, instilled with majesty, elegance and magical qualities—or even brute quotidian power. Or it gave self-representation the semblance of such power borrowed from persons actually or ritually instilled with it. Even when the medium employed was mimetic and naturalistic, like photography, human representation was not seen as indicating the co-presence in symbolic as well as lived time by a figure that represented a character, nor one embodying experience typical to that person of what it was to live their life, or to have lived it.
In the photographs taken at Chaya Jittakorn, the “ceremonial incarnation” is made apparent through the presence of items that through their association with the monarchy grant the subject, and thus the subject’s image, a higher level of barami. The presence of the royal betel-nut set, the embellished golden robe signifying service to the king, and various royal medals and decorations enables the subject of the photograph to borrow barami by way of associations with the royal personage. The symbolic power of these decorations is heightened by the complex procedures that must be followed in order to receive permission from the palace to borrow them as well as to have one’s photograph taken with them.
Although the presence of such objects does not increase actual rank, the decorations distinguish an individual from those of the same rank. These objects perform in the same way as does the presence of the monarchical person in photographs of degree-conferring ceremonies, their presence a “gift” of barami to the recipient.
As examined earlier, place in the Thai social hierarchy is also reliant on possessions and physical beauty. Thus, a photograph used to manifest and build one’s barami must also contain these elements. At Chaya Jittakorn, although most of the objects within a photograph are official or royal decorations, great emphasis is on the photographic apparatus itself as symbolic of social positioning. All photographs at the studio are still taken on a medium-format analogue camera (Mamiya), and are developed in a darkroom if the client so requests. Until recently, the studio also used expensive cibachrome printing (a positive-to-positive printing process direct from slides). Clients will also check to see if their photograph has been printed on Kodak paper, as the paper has long been considered by Thais to be of the best quality. Physical appearance is also improved within the pictures by touching up by hand on both the negative and the final print as well as by photographing subjects in front of a blue background, which enhances the appearance of military and official uniforms.
The current owner of Chaya Jittakorn commented that these techniques are used as a “gimmick” to attract clients away from studios that use digital photography and Photoshop techniques, and enable the studio to charge considerably more than it could otherwise. This indicates an emphasis not just on the content of the photograph, but also on the photographic apparatus itself as a means of “conspicuous consumption” signifying status or to increase barami within a particular social group. Given that digital photography has reached the stage where it is difficult to distinguish the quality from earlier analogue techniques, the preference of Chaya Jittakorn’s clients for one over the other and certain brands as opposed to others acts as a “Veblen effect”—that is, “consumers exhibit a willingness to pay a higher price for a functionally equivalent good.”
Considering the definition of status in a stratified social system, a Veblen effect serves to distinguish oneself from lower groups, and establishes one’s membership in a particular social group. This appears similar to Bourdieu’s definition of cultural capital as “an indicator and a basis of class position: cultural attitudes, preferences and behaviors are conceptualized as ‘tastes’ which are then being mobilized for social selection.” As Bourdieu discovered, as a result of photography’s availability to the vast majority of people, within the habitus of higher classes there is often a greater demand for a more expensive type of photographic activity. This is signaled in Chaya Jittakorn by the use of increasingly rare and expensive analogue film and techniques. It is also indicated in the photographic production of individuals belonging to elitist photography clubs; in Thailand, the possession of expensive cameras and the ability to acquire professional Photoshop skills are seen as forms of “cultural capital” that distinguish these photographers from those who use the medium to document family events or travel, for example.
The symbolic representation of barami, by military uniforms, royal insignia, and analogue photographic apparatus, has increasingly lost significance since the late 1980s, as demonstrated by Chaya Jittakorn’s ageing clientele This may be a result of the weakening of military power after the violent massacre of student protesters by the army and right-wing groups at Thammasat University in 1976, the return of student activists in 1983, and the growing participation of big business in politics because of the economic boom of the 1980s. Rather than disappearing, however, recently the kind of social stratification indicated by photographs of the military in the 1960s and 1970s has reappeared in society magazines such as Hi-So Party, Thailand Tatler, 2 Magazine, and Prestige.
Photography poses a unique challenge to studies of visual culture in Thailand, as it is simultaneously a technologically and a culturally determined medium. Although images of power constitute just one aspect of photography in Thailand, it makes clear the complexity of relationships between endogenous and exogenous discourses. Here, the discursive constructions of these opposites operate in a process of relativization in which different cultural elements are emphasized at different historical moments and in relation to particular social and political strategies. In the context of increased globalization and the more recent ease with which image exchange may occur among a variety of geographical and conceptual spaces, the relationship between these discourses has become more diverse, and warrants further study.
Clare Veal is a PhD candidate in the Department of Art History and Film Studies at the University of Sydney. Her present PhD project is focused on an analysis of the relationship between Thai identities and photography in the period 1950-2012.
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This is also solidified through the historical relationship between the monarchy and photography through the practices of King Bhumibol himself, his daughter Princess Sirindhorn, and past kings, in particular King Chulalongkorn, as well as royal sponsorship of the Royal Thai Photographic Society and various photography competitions. See Siripant Sakda, Kasat & Klong: Wiwatthanakan kanthaiphap nai Prathet Thai, Pho. So. 2388–2535 (King and Camera: Evolution of Photography in Thailand 1845–1992) (Krung Thep [Bangkok]: Darnsutha Press, 2535 ). On the use of photography by the monarchy in the nineteenth century, see John Clark, Some Relations between Painting and Photography in Asia During the 19th and Early 20th Century (Unpublished paper, University of Sydney, 2010); John Clark, "Icon and Image in Modern Thai Art: A Preliminary Exploration," in Contemporary Aesthetics, vol. 3, 2011; Caverlee Cary, "In the Image of the King: Two Photographs from Nineteenth-Century Siam," in Nora A. Taylor, ed., Studies in Southeast Asian Art: Essays in Honor of Stanley J. O'Connor (Ithaca: Cornell University, 2000); Caverlee Cary, "Triple Gems and Double Meanings: Contested Spaces in the National Museum of Bangkok" (Unpublished dissertation, Cornell University, 1994), 63–65; Anake Nawigamune, Prawat Kanthairup Yuk Raek Khong Thai (History of Early Photography in Thailand) (Bangkok: Sarakhadi Phap, 2548 ); Rosalind C. Morris, "Photography and the Power of Images in the History of Power: Notes from Thailand," in Rosalind C. Morris, ed., Photographies East: The Camera and Its Histories in East and Southeast Asia (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2009); and Leslie Woodhouse, "Concubines with Cameras: Royal Siamese Consorts Picturing Femininity and Ethnic Difference in Early-20th-Century Siam," in Trans Asia Photography Review, vol. 2, no. 2, Spring 2012 (http://hdl.handle.net/2027/spo.7977573.0002.202). More generally, on the political and social functions of images in Siam and Thailand, see Peter A. Jackson, "The Performative State: Semi-Coloniality and the Tyranny of Images in Modern Thailand," in Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, vol. 19, no. 2, 2004; and Peter A. Jackson, "The Thai Regime of Images," in Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, vol. 19, no. 2, 2004.
This analysis of the relationship between the endogenous and exogenous in photographs draws on theories of “alternative modernities,” which recognize that “modernity always unfolds within a specific cultural or civilizational context and that different starting points for the transition to modernity leads to different outcomes.” See Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, "On Alternative Modernities," in Dilip Parameshwar Gaonkar, ed., Alternative Modernities ( Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001), 17.
For a criticism of the centrality of Euramerica in postcolonial and “alternative modernities studies,” see Dipesh Chakrabarty, Provincializing Europe (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2000).
Michael Herzfeld, “The Conceptual Allure of the West: Dilemmas and Ambiguities of Crypto-colonialism in Thailand,” in Rachel V. Harrison and Peter A. Jackson, eds., The Ambiguous Allure of the West: Traces of the Colonial in Thailand (Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2010), 179.
See Philip Stott, "Mu’ang and Pa: Elite Views of Nature in a Changing Thailand," in Manas Chitakasem and Andrew Turton, eds., Thai Constructions of Knowledge (London: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 1991), 145; Robert Heine-Geldern, "Conception of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia," in Far Eastern Quarterly, vol. 2, no. 1, November 1942; and Thongchai Winichakul, Siam Mapped: The Geo-Body of a Nation (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 1994).
On these analogies, see Juliane Schober, "The Theravada Buddhist Engagement with Modernity in Southeast Asia," in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 26, no. 2, September 1995; Clark E. Cunningham, "Characterizing a Social System: The Loose–Tight Dichotomy," in Hans-Dieter Evens, ed., Loosely Structured Social Systems: Thailand in Comparative Perspective (New Haven: Yale University, 1969); Stanley J. Tambiah, "The Ideology of Merit and the Social Correlates of Buddhism in a Thai Village," in Edmund Leach, ed., Dialectic in Practical Religion (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1968).
The sakdina system is outlined in Andrew Turton, "Thai Institutions of Slavery," in James L Watson, ed., Asian and African Systems of Slavery (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1980), 270; and Peter Vandergeest, "Constructing Thailand: Regulation, Everyday Resistance, and Citizenship," in Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 35, no. 1, January 1993, 137. Sakdina was equivalent to a feudal system in the writings of some Thai academics: see Craig J. Reynolds, Thai Radical Discourse: The Real Face of Thai Feudalism Today (Ithaca, NY: Southeast Asia Program, Cornell University, 1987); and Udom Sisuwan (Aran Prommachomphu, pseud.), Senthan Sangkhom Thai (The Path of Thai Society) (Bangkok: Akson, 1979, ). This equivalence, however, has been the cause of much controversy, outlined in Craig J. Reynolds and Hong Lysa, "Marxism in Thai Historical Studies," in Journal of Asian Studies, vol. XLIII, no. 1, November 1983; Hong Lysa, "'Stranger in the Gates': Knowing Semi-colonial Siam as Extraterritorials," in Modern Asian Studies, vol. 38, no. 2, May 2004; and Hong Lysa, “Warasan Setthasat Kanmu’ang: Critical Scholarship in Post-1976 Thailand,” in Chitakasem and Turton, eds., Thai Constructions of Knowledge.
See Akin Rabibhadana, The Organization of Thai Society in the Early Bangkok Period 1782–1873. (Ithaca, NY: Data paper, No. 74, Southeast Asia Program, Department of Asian Studies, Cornell University, July 1969), 12; Craig J. Reynolds, "Buddhist Cosmology in Thai History with Special Reference to Nineteenth-Century Culture Change," in Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 35, no. 2, 1976, 205.
Vandergeest, "Constructing Thailand: Regulation, Everyday Resistance, and Citizenship," 138. See also Charles F. Keyes, “Buddhist Politics and Their Revolutionary Origins in Thailand,” in International Political Science Review, vol. 10, no. 2, April 1989, 123.
See Charles F. Keyes, "Millennialism, Theravada Buddhism and Thai Society," in Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 36, no. 2, 1977; Schober, "The Theravada Buddhist Engagement with Modernity in Southeast Asia," 307; and Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, The Buddhist Saints of the Forest and the Cult of Amulets (Cambridge and London: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 148–49.
Three Worlds According to King Ruang, 153. See also Stanley J. Tambiah, "Sangha and Polity in Modern Thailand," in Bardwell L. Smith, ed., Religion and Legitimation of Power in Thailand, Laos and Burma (Chambersburg, PA: Anima Books, 1978), 113–14; and Stanley Jeyaraja Tambiah, World Conqueror and World Renouncer (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1976), 54.
In his analysis of the reign of King Taksin, Nithi Eaowsriwong offers an English translation of anabarami as “charisma.” Nithi Eaowsriwong, Prawattisat Rattanakosi Naiphra Raatchaphongsawadan Ayuthaya (Bangkok History in the Royal Chronicles of Ayuthaya) (Bangkok: Thai Khadi Suksa, Thammasat University, 1980). See also Patrick Jory, "Problems in Contemporary Thai Nationalist Historiography," in Kyoto Review of Southeast Asia, vol. 3, March 2003, 36.
Ibid., 44. Princess Sirindhorn has also written extensively about the relationship of barami and kingship; see Princess Sirindhorn, Thotsabarami Nai Phutthasatsana Therawat (The Ten Perfections in Theravada Buddhism) (Krung Thep [Bangkok]: Mahamakut Ratchawithayalai, 1982). Heine-Geldern also refers to the instability of kingship in Southeast Asia, in Heine-Geldern, "Conception of State and Kingship in Southeast Asia."
This definition is from Teh in his presentation at the 2011 AAANZ conference. See David Teh, "Baramee: The Ethics of Withdrawal in Thai Contemporary Art," in AAANZ: Together<>Apart, University of Sydney, 12–14 July 2011. Also, as May Adadol has written, “Filtered over time into everyday usage, the word barami has come to signify in general one who possesses ‘auratic merit.’ The individual with auratic merit is capable of inspiring faith, loyalty or obedience in others, which consequently allows him or her to successfully carry out exceptionally complicated practices on a scale beyond the capacity of the ordinary person,” in May Adadol Ingawanij, "Hyperbolic Heritage: Bourgeois Spectatorship and Contemporary Thai Cinema" (Unpublished dissertation, London Consortium [Birkbeck, Tate, Architectural Assoication, Institute of Contemporary Arts], University of London, 2006), 211.
Tamara Loos, Subject Siam: Family, Law and Colonial Modernity in Thailand (Chiang Mai: Silkworm Books, 2006), 114. The contemporary manifestation of this practice is exemplified in Philip Shenon, "Bangkok Journal: Irate Wife, Talky Mistress, Shellshocked General," in the New York Times, 1 August 1991.
As Jory has indicated, the practice of giving as a means of indicating and building barami is reinforced in the Buddhist doctrine Vessantara Jataka. See Patrick Jory, "The Vessantara Jataka, Barami and the Bodhisattva-Kings: The Origin and Spread of a Thai Concept of Power," in Crossroads: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 16, no. 2, 2002, 47.
Thongchai Winichakul, "The Quest for 'Siwilai': A Geographical Discourse of Civilisational Thinking in Late- Nineteenth and Early-Twentieth-Century Siam," in Journal of Asian Studies, vol. 59, no. 3, August 2000, 533; Maurizio Peleggi, Lords of Things: Fashioning the Siamese Monarchy's Modern Image (Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2002), 24.
Penny Van Esterik, "The Politics of Beauty in Thailand," in Colleen Ballerino Cohen, Richard Wilk, and Beverly Stoeltje, eds., Beauty Queens on the Global Stage: Gender, Contests, and Power (New York and London: Routledge, 1996), 216.
H. G. Wales links the taboo of looking at the body of the monarch to the Indian Vedic text Manusmrti (Laws of Manu). He quotes Manu vii, 5, 6: “Because a king has been formed of particles of those lords of the gods, he therefore surpasses all created beings in luster; and like the sun, he burns eyes and hearts; nor can anybody on earth even gaze on him,” in H. G. Quaritch Wales, Siamese State Ceremonies: Their History and Function (London: Bernard Quaritch, Ltd, 1931), 35. Quoted in John Clark, Presenting the Self: Pictorial and Photographic Discourses in the 19th-century Dutch Indies and Siam (Unpublished paper, University of Sydney, 2011). Vandergeest also refers to the Laws of Manu as having influence on the Thai cosmological and social systems; see Vandergeest, "Constructing Thailand," 138.
Ibid. Benjamin’s theory on the decline of the “aura” of images through reprographic technology is outlined in Walter Benjamin, "The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility: Second Version," in Michael Jennings, Brigid Doherty, and Y. Levin, eds., The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility (Cambridge: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2008).
As Apinan Poshyananda has written, before the introduction of photography to Siam, the king was believed to be “participating in divinity; hence the need for images in state ceremonies and Brahmanic rights. Idealized religious images in royal regalia were made to remind worshippers of the late monarchs, and the images became sanctified in response to the belief that the spirits remained in them,” in Apinan Poshyananda, Modern Art in Thailand: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1992), 9.
For an account of the links between colonial aggression and the camera as seen by the people of Shanghai, see Régine Thiriez, Barbarian Lens: Western Photographers of the Qianlong Emporer's European Palaces (Amsterdam: Gordern and Breach, 1998); and for the local people of the Congo, Nicholas Mirzoeff, "Photography at the Heart of Darkness: Herbert Lang's Congo Photographs (1909–15)," in Tim Barringer and Tom Flynn, eds., Colonialism and the Object: Empire, Material Culture and the Museum (London and New York: Routledge, 1998).
“Mongkut’s predecessor (Rama III) showed little interest in the device, purportedly due to a suspicion that to be captured in a photograph was to invite death, but also probably the result of a general rejection of the European overtures which had marked the earlier phase of his reign.” Cary, "In the Image of the King: Two Photographs from Nineteenth-Century Siam."
Geoffrey Batchen, Burning with Desire (Cambridge: MIT, 1997), 36. Clark makes a similar point in relation to an Asian context: “This simple reiteration of a few facts for Japan reinforces how the early history of photography in Asia tends to be constructed around the availability of photographic chemicals and equipment to non-Europeans, the date of local distribution and manufacture, and the appearance of local taste or sensibility in the discourse of images beyond these positions adumbrated by Europeans. Clearly these are all ways of noting the extent and structure of local assimilation, but I think they tend to overlook the sheer cultural effort required in technical understanding,” in Clark, Modern Asian Art, 146.
“It should already be clear that the discursive desire I have described as photo-prophetic coincides with a singular moment in Western history. This is the crucial fact of my argument: the desire to photograph only appears as a regular discourse at a particular time and place,” Batchen, Burning with Desire, 52.
Christopher Pinney, "Camerawork as Technical Practice in Colonial India," in Tony Bennett and Patrick Joyce, eds., Material Studies: Cultural Studies, History and the Material Turn (Oxon: Routledge, 2010), 145.
King Mongkut is known to have taken an interest in Euramerican technology and science during his time as a monk, 1824–51. See Reynolds, "Buddhist Cosmology in Thai History with Special Reference to Nineteenth-Century Culture Change," 212–13. In those years he met men such as Jesse Caswell and Bishop Pallegoix, and from them learned French, English, and Latin. See William Bradley, "Prince Mongkut and Jesse Caswell," in Journal of the Siam Society, vol. LIV, no. 1, 1966, 36–37. See also Peleggi, Lords of Things: Fashioning the Siamese Monarchy's Modern Image; Maurizio Peleggi, Thailand: The Worldly Kingdom (London: Reaktion Books, 2007), especially chapter 5; Lysa, "'Stranger in the Gates,'" 330–32. Mongkut’s passion for science, particularly astrology, is also well documented: see Winichakul, Siam Mapped, 37–40.
See Lysa, "'Stranger in the Gates.'" These issues are also discussed in Hong Lysa, "Extraterritoriality in Bangkok in the Reign of King Chulalongkorn," in Itinerario, vol. 27, no. 2, July 2003; Reynolds and Lysa, "Marxism in Thai Historical Studies"; Winichakul, Siam Mapped; Winichakul, "The Quest for 'Siwilai'"; and Thongchai Winichakul, "The Changing Landscape of the Past: New Histories in Thailand since 1973," in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 26, no. 1, 1995.
This exchange between Queen Victoria and King Mongkut is documented in M. L. Manich Jumsai, King Mongkut and Sir John Bowring: From Sir John Bowring's Personal Files, Kept at the Royal Thai Embassy in London (Bangkok: Chalermnit, 1970), 100. I am grateful also to John Clark, who has shared with me his compilation of gifts sent between the king and other world leaders.
As Clark has suggested, “The rigid poses demanded of the sitter in King Mongut’s 1855 photograph with his Queen which were sent to the US President do not fully indicate the radical change involved in representing the person of the King in a quasi-public circulation of an image to a foreign social peer,” in Clark, Presenting the Self. Cary compares this image and later images of King Mongkut in "In the Image of the King."
Woodall describes many of these as being features of European oil portraits of nobility from the sixteenth century on: “Traditionally, this form of self-presentation articulated a claim to immortality in terms of the prerogatives of the hereditary nobility: the exercise of sovereignty and the bearing of arms. A cane indicated the judicial authority of a ruler and the full length, life-sized format, with legs astride, hand on hip, curtain, pedestal and covered table, was widely associated with images of sovereigns. Gold chains were signs of honour, conventionally distributed by sovereign.The helmet signalled military prowess upon which the noble order was founded, and wearing a sword was a prerogative to the titled aristocracy,” in Joanna Woodall, “Sovereign Bodies: The Reality of Status in Seventeenth-Century Dutch Portraiture,” in Joanna Woodall, ed. Portraiture: Facing the Subject (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1997), 79.
See Woodhouse, "Concubines with Cameras: Royal Siamese Consorts Picturing Femininity and Ethnic Difference in Early 20th Century Siam"; Nawigamune, Prawat Kanthairup Yuk Raek Khong Thai (History of Early Photography in Thailand); Sakda, Kasat & Klong (King and Camera); and Peleggi, Lords of Things.
On these paintings, and in particular the portrait The Royal Family (1899), by the artist Eduardo Gelli from a photograph taken by Robert Lenz, see Peleggi, Lords of Things, 66–68; Poshyananda, Western-Style Painting and Sculpture in the Thai Royal Court, 354; and Patrick D. Flores, "Colonial Posterities: Portraiture and the Face of the Modern," in Kasarinlan: Philippine Journal of Third World Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 2007, 40.
An example is the instructional text Nangsuu Sadaen Kitjaanukit (A Book Explaining Various Things), written by King Mongkut’s foreign minister, Jau Phraya Thiphakorawong, which criticized the nonscientific elements of the Traibumikhata. The minister, however, concluded that the text was useful for its ethical teachings on karma, merit, and rebirth. See Peter A. Jackson, "Re-Interpreting the Traiphum Phra Ruang: Political Functions of Buddhist Symbolism in Contemporary Thailand," in Trevor Ling, ed., Buddhist Trends in Southeast Asia (Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 1993), 72–73.
Vandergeest, "Constructing Thailand," 142–43. See also Keyes, "Buddhist Politics and Their Revolutionary Origins in Thailand," 130–31; Jackson, "Re-Interpreting the Traiphum Phra Ruang"; and Reynolds, "Buddhist Cosmology in Thai History with Special Reference to Nineteenth-Century Culture Change."
As Veblen writes, conspicuous consumption may be seen in this way: “In order to gain and to hold the esteem of men, wealth must be put into evidence, for esteem is only awarded on evidence,” in Thorstein Veblen, The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions (New York: Dover Publications, 1994, 1899), 24.
According to Reynolds, Phibun’s adoption of the phunam title appeared much like that of similar titles by Mussolini (Il Duce) and Hitler (der Führer). See Bruce E. Reynolds, "Phibun Songkhram and Thai Nationalism in the Fascist Era," in European Journal of East Asian Studies, vol. 3, no. 1, 2003, 117.
It is important to emphasize that this was a relative weakness. Connors writes: “It is a mistake to imagine that the monarchy disappeared as an ideological force until its rehabilitation in the late 1950s. Since 1932 the institution of the monarchy remained in use as an aspect of political legitimacy and as a focus for aristocrats to maintain and advance their position. . . . Conservatives continued to seek an extension of the constitutional role of the monarchy through the late 1940s,” in Michael Kelly Connors, Democracy and National Identity in Thailand (Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2007) 44.
Phibun explained his own perception of his dictatorial role in 1940: “I allowed the campaign depicting me as the Phunam/Leader, because I wished others to believe that we, the people of the whole nation, can put our trust in one man, namely the Phunam, who must be followed because of the good deeds he has performed. It is a campaign to persuade our Thai brothers and sisters to follow the Phunam with a glad heart, particularly in times of war which we are facing presently. Without a leader who commands the trust of the people, how can any foreign country respect our nation and our leader? . . . With this objective in mind, I have allowed the campaign about myself to be widely propagated. The campaign is meant to demonstrate that we, the whole nation, can act as one person,” quoted in Kobuka Suwannathat-Pian, Thailand's Durable Premier (Kuala Lumpur: Oxford University Press, 1995), 82.
This is reflected in the Correspondence of the Top Military Headquarters, Ministry of Defense, which in 1939 recommended the replacement of old pictures decorating regional and central government offices with images sanctioned by the government’s propaganda office. See Kumsupa, Anusawari Prachatipatai Kap Kwammay Ti Mong Mai Hen (The Democracy Monument and Its Unexamined Meanings), 231.
Chanawit Kasetsiri documents an instance of a group of students, attending a film at the Chalermkrung Theatre, who refused to stand and show respect to Phibun’s photograph and were later arrested. In Chanawit Kasetsiri, Samnak Nan Thammasat Lae Gaanmuang (Thammasat University and Politics) (Krung Thep [Bangkok]: Dokya, 2535 ), 105. See also Kumsupa, Anusawari Prachatipatai Kap Kwammay Ti Mong Mai Hen (The Democracy Monument and Its Unexamined Meanings), 232.
Thirayut Boonmee, "Rupthay Na Ran Thayrup (Photographs in the Front of the Photographer's Store)," in Suan Nueng Khwam Sangcham Yisip Pi Sip Si Tula Lae Pai Khangna (One Part of Memories, 20 Years of October 14, and Looking Towards the Future) (Krung Thep [Bangkok]: Winyuchon Publishing House, 2537 ).
The ability for barami to be conferred through physical or visual presence is indicated by Gray, who writes: “Some men (kings) have barami at birth as signified by the possession of royal blood. Barami can be ‘built’ [sang] through acts of personal and ritual generosity or it can be acquired through close proximity to sacred persons—Buddhist kings or Buddhist saints,” in Gray, "Thailand: The Soteriological State in the 1970s," 431. Steng also refers to the ability of barami to be transferred from images, such as the King Chulalongkorn equestrian statue in Bangkok, to items such as coins and amulets through physical proximity; see Irene Stengs, Worshipping the Great Modernizer: King Chulalongkorn, Patron Saint of the Thai Middle Class (Singapore: NUS Press, 2009), 88.
Nithi Eaowsriwong, “Ba Amnat Nai Wattanatham Thai (Crazed with Power in Thai Society),” in Nithi Eaowsriwong, Watthanatham Khwaam Jon? (The Culture of Poverty?) (Krung Thep [Bangkok]: Amarin, 2541 ). 96.
Thanes Wongyannawa, "Self-Censorship in Thailand: 'Truth Is Pain,'" in New Mandala, July 2012. http://asiapacific.anu.edu.au/newmandala/2012/08/06/thai-studies-in-the-shadow-of-self-censorship-16-july-2012-anu.
This spatial positioning is also reflected in the statement made by individuals before they may address the monarch: “May the power of the dust and the dust under the soles of your royal feet protect my head and the top of my head,” in Sombat Chantornvong, "To Address the Dust of the Dust under the Soles of Royal Feet: A Reflection on the Political Dimension of Thai Court Language," in Asian Review, no. 6, 1992, 146.
This view is also reflected in Marx: “Our wants and pleasures have their origin in society, we therefore measure them in relation; we do not measure them in relation to the objects which serve for their gratification. Since they are of a social nature, they are of a relative nature,” in Karl Marx, Wage, Labor and Capital (New York: International Publishers, 1933), 33. See also H. Liebenstein, "Bandwagon, Snob, and Veblen Effects in the Theory of Consumers' Demand," in Quarterly Journal of Economics, vol. 64, no. 2, May 1950; and Richard McIntyre, "Consumption and Contemporary Capitalism: Beyond Marx and Veblen," in Review of Social Economy, vol. 50, no. 1, 1992.
Michèle Lamont and Annette Lareau, "Cultural Capital: Allusions, Gaps and Glissandos in Recent Theoretical Developments," in Sociological Theory, vol. 6, no. 2, Autumn 1988. 155. See also Pierre Bourdieu, Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgment of Taste (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984); and Pierre Bourdieu, ed. Photography: A Middle-Brow Art (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990), 13–72.
See Bourdieu, ed., Photography, 17. Bourdieu uses the term habitus to overcome the question of how much agency individuals have within a societal structure: that is, whether their actions are determined by institutions or by their own individual desires. He defines habitus as follows: “The structures constitutive of a particular type of environment (e.g., the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition) produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to function as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representation which can be objectively ‘regulated’ and ‘regular’ without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them, and being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor” in Pierre Bourdieu, Outline of a Theory of Practice, Richard Nice, trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 72.
Connors, Democracy and National Identity in Thailand, 101–105; Voranai Vanijaka, "Rise of the Planet of the Merchants." Bangkok Post, 28 October 2012. http://www99.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/318497/rise-of-the-planet-of-the-merchants, accessed on 11 November 2012.