This photography graduate is multi-skilled—her passions also include rock and ice climbing, flying (planes and helicopters) and cooking (Cordon Bleu certified)—Fon is currently putting her photography and museum management degrees to good use. She has been entrusted by renowned American photojournalist and war photographer Jim Nachtwey to set up his retrospective photo exhibition, “Memoria”, which will take place at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre from 5 September to 26 November. Just for the record, she once interned at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, and worked as cultural programme coordinator at Asia House, headed the Photography Department in the Faculty of Architecture, King Mongkut Institute of Technology, Ladkrabang, and is also a member of the Advisory Board and programme director of the Royal Photographic Society of Thailand. And she is as much at ease behind the camera as she is in front of it.
In 2017, Fon helped to arrange a major photographic exhibition at the Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre for Brazilian photographer Sebastiao Salgado, reputed to be one of the world’s greatest living photographers. It was during this exhibition that she met James Nachtwey, an old friend of Salgado—both being members of Magnum Photos, an international photographic cooperative founded by Henri Cartier-Bresson amongst others.
Nachtwey was suitably impressed with the exhibition and when he was planned to hold his own exhibition in Bangkok, he reached out to Fon. However, the project had to be put on hold due to the Covid pandemic.
To put things into perspective, over the last 42 years James Nachtwey has covered nearly every armed conflict in the world. He has had numerous solo exhibitions in places including the International Centre of Photography in New York, Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris, Palazzo Reale in Milan and Fotografiska in Stockholm and New York. However, this will be his first exhibition in Thailand and Asia Pacific.
Nachtwey is no stranger to Thailand, having used Bangkok as a hub to travel to all conflict zones around the world in the past. He even bears a scar from a bullet that grazed him while covering the street protests of 2014. According to Fon, he is fond of Thailand and the Thai people, so having an exhibition here would mean a lot to him.
Nachtwey is known to be a notoriously private person, keeping to himself most of the time, and trusting only a handful of people to handle his works. He works alone without assistants and even when he is in his studio in Dartmouth, UK, he is unreachable most of the time. Furthermore, he was off the radar for months at a time, working in Afghanistan and Ukraine.
“He is a perfectionist, laser-focused, hard-working, fearless and passionate about his work which is why he is considered the most important journalist of our time,” Fon remarked.
So for Fon, this has been a truly challenging project indeed. Not only does she have to access files, supervise the printing, framing and hanging, the project also involves many institutions, not to mention the massive costs involved in putting on a retrospective exhibition of this scale.
“I am grateful and blessed that he trusts me enough to let me be the ‘point man” on this project,” noted Fon.
“James Nachtwey: Memoria Exhibition” a retrospective photographic exhibition by the legendary war photographer James Nachtwey, will be on display for the first time in Bangkok.
This exhibition includes a large collection of photographs taken by James Nachtwey over numerous decades in various countries facing war and conflict. Notably, his latest photographs showing the current circumstances in Ukraine will be on display for the first time which will give an important perspective on the effects of the war.
The objective of this exhibition is to reveal war’s tragic effects on combatants and civilians alike, to identify issues that need to be dealt with by the public and to be an inspiration to other photographers around the world.
One hundred and twenty-six photographs will be on display as well as a short-film of James Nachtwey’s interview directed by Thomas Nordanstad. A documentary about War photography directed by Christian Frei will be shown at the event. Christian Frei followed James Nachtwey for two years into the wars in Indonesia, Kosovo and Palestine. Christian Frei was able to film this by using special micro-cameras which were attached to James Nachtwey's photo-camera. In the documentary we see the famed photographer looking for the decisive moment and we hear his every breath. Differentiating it from other documentaries on photographers, Christian Frei’s techniques allowed an authentic insight into the work of a world-renowned photojournalist.
West Bank Ramallah 2000: Palestinian protesters hurled stones and Molotovs at Israeli soldiers, who fired live ammunition as well as steel rounds coated with rubber, which were sometimes fatal.
Afghanistan Kabul 1996: What had been the central commercial district resembled a moonscape of destruction.
Greece Idomeni 2016: When the border with Macedonia was closed, some of the migrants attempted to find another way through and had to ford a raging river, freezing cold from the melting snow in the mountains.
Bosnia-Herzegovina Mostar 1993: During the house-to-house fighting for control of Mostar, Croatian militiamen seized an apartment building, driving out Muslim residents.
El Salvador San Luis de la Reina 1984: Wounded soldiers were carried to a village football field to be evacuated by helicopter, and three girls, dressed for a Saint's Day ceremony, left church to watch.
USA New York City 2001: The collapse of the south tower, World Trade Center
Each photograph in this exhibition represents a fragment of a memory, captured within the continuum of the events Nachtwey experienced. Each image was intended to reach a mass audience during the time at which these events were taking place, as a way of raising public consciousness; one element amongst many in the process of change.
Now, as that same continuum moves relentlessly forward, and the events themselves recede in time, Natchwey hope’s that these pictures will stand as a remembrance of the people in them, of the conditions they endured and how those conditions came to be.
“For me photography is not a way to impost on reality what I think I already know. It’s an exploration – one pair of eyes, one mind, one heart, moving through the real world in real time, trying to tell the stories of what happens to people, one-by-one, at the sharp end of history; stories that society needs in order to function properly; to assess contemporary events, to make well informed decisions and to continually learn about ourselves,” said by James Nachtwey about his life work. In his “Memoria” exhibition in Fotografiska Tallinn, James Nachtwey says “Eventually, the scope of my work expanded beyond war, to include many other circumstances; where there were social injustices crying out to be corrected, humanitarian emergencies and natural disasters requiring immediate action and health issues in need of greater attention.”
The exhibition has been organised by The Royal Photographic Society of Thailand, in collaboration with the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre and supported by the Photographic Arts Foundation and The Embassy of the United States of America. The exhibition will open on 5 September and be on display until 26 November 2023, 10 am – 8 pm, 7th floor of Bangkok Art and Culture Centre. Admission is free.