A.W.C. 2018 - Asian Workers Covered
On the occasion of the first Bangkok Art Biennale 2018
Exhibition: 12 Dec 2018 – 3 Feb 2019
Tue 11 Dec 18:00 - 20:00
Le Link Gallery
34/1 Soi Ton Son Ploenchit Road, Lumpini, Pathumwam
+66-95 591 5014
Exhibition: 12 December, 2018 - 3 February, 2019
In the frame of the first Bangkok Art Biennale 2018
In Thailand, completely covered up construction workers are a familiar sight. Thousands of them toil in intense heat on skyscrapers and along roadsides. In their lunch-breaks, they sit by the side of other people’s dreams they have been recruited to build, and laugh, eat and smoke, sometimes without removing their protective clothing - masks, sunglasses, balaclavas, scarves - which renders them virtually invisible to ordinary Thais.
The brilliance of Ralf Tooten’s stark portraits of these "AWC – Asian Workers Covered" – rests in his ability to make a social taboo highly visible. Tooten shot the original AWC series between 2006 and 2009. He set up his mobile studio – a dark background, a few lights – in quiet corners of Bangkok’s construction sites and photographed scores of male and female workers from Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Burma. In 2012, Tooten shot a second series of portraits in Ratchaburi, a town in central Thailand, and went on to spread his work across 2000 square meters of vinyl banners on the town’s public structures – the first time contemporary art was made accessible to so many people in Thailand.
The photographs, all taken on a mid-format Hasselblad V on negative film, are deceptively simple. There’s a fashionable and yet arbitrary riot of colors at play in the subjects’ head and face coverings that betrays a stubborn vivacity quite in contrast to their blank eyes. And there are weightier reasons than heat, dust and pollution for the workers’ disguises. In many parts of Asia, light skin is seen as highly desirable, a visual marker for class and wealth. As a consequence, the men and women Tooten captured fear the sun. And as many are illegal foreign workers, they also fear the authorities.
In October 2018, Ralf Tooten was invited to exhibit AWC at the inaugural Bangkok Biennale. Once again, the photographer found a way to present his poignant images in unusual environments. His 14 by 14 meter portrait of a female worker looked out over shoppers at BACC (Bangkok Art and Cultural Centre), while screens in downtown shopping centers flashed his portraits at passing Bangkokians. The Biennale’s main curator, Prof.Dr. Apinan Poshyananda dubbed this the "Tooten Attack".
Ralf Tooten’s project offers ordinary Thais another view of their country, reminding them by whom their cities are built, while lending identity and dignity to people who enjoy too little of either. To paraphrase a famous quote by the Urdu poet Kabir: "He is putting up mirrors in the city of the blind."
Fascinated by the aesthetics of visual encounters, the personal radiance of human beings and great architecture of all centuries, photographer Ralf Tooten has dedicated his professional life to architecture & portrait photography.
Born 1958 in Germany’s Rhineland, Tooten completed his apprenticeship in architectural photography with master photographer Clemens Hartzenbusch in 1978 and worked as a stills photographer on several seminal German movies including Volker Schlöndorff’s Academy Award winning The Tin Drum, based on the novel by Günter Grass, and Margarethe von Trotta’s Two German Sisters, which won the Golden Lion.
Tooten’s first coffee table book Eyes of Wisdom, an intimate portrait collection of the world’s greatest religious leaders, received worldwide attention and bagged the distinguished Hasselblad Master Award in 2002.
In 2003, Tooten moved this studio to Bangkok and began photographing the Thai capital at night. His collaboration with acclaimed writer Roger Willemsen resulted in the best-selling book Bangkok Noir, published in 2009.
His more recent collection, Ocean Noir, a series of ultra-low light images of oceans around the world, was first exhibited in Bangkok in 2016.
More information: www.tooten.com