Laws of censorship in Thailand have long fascinated Tiane Doan Na Champassak. The photographer, who grounds much of his work in Thai culture, has amassed a vast collection – 4,000 strong – of Thai erotic magazines from the 1960s and 70s over the last several years. Since portrayals of nudity in print were not allowed when they were published, the images featured in the magazines were partly covered – but in surprisingly artful ways.
Champassak’s collection is the basis of his latest photo book, aptly titled Censored. “I have been collecting this material since 2010, which was the time I was working on my first self-published book The King of Photography, also a book on appropriation and Thailand,” Champassak tells AnOther. While previous photo books have seen the image-maker add his own marks of censorship to the images, Censored offers a pared-back look at the original techniques. “This is the first time I’m showing these photographs in such a way,” Champassak continues. “Last year I released a book called Siam’s Guy in which I covered all the original magazine photographs on my own, applying censorship on all images. This time I reversed the act, showing only the beautiful details censored by hand that were hiding underneath my prints.”
Beautiful perhaps isn’t the first word that springs to mind when considering erotic periodicals, but the careful and often intricate prints overlaying these nudes are exactly that. Removed from their original context, they are imbued with an entirely new meaning. It’s this process that Champassak is drawn to; “I find recycling existing images to be as exciting and vital as making photographs with a camera,” he says. “As John Baldessari once said, ‘it’s like words, it’s stuff we use’. So the challenge is to make sense of this endless visual vocabulary just waiting to be recontextualised in a new light.”
The archive imagery featured in Censored boasts elements of kitsch; saccharine graphics such as doilies or hearts conceal breasts with a subversive naïvety. Perhaps this comes from the era – Champassak notes that recent decades have seen an evolution in attitudes surrounding both censorship and sensuality, though not necessarily a positive one. “I have always been fascinated by the fact our societies are becoming more and more puritan about sex and nudity and at the same time more and more violent,” he states. “It is absurd to be continuously faced with violence on TV, in movies, on the Internet, et cetera, and have to cover our beautiful body parts which are considered harmful.”
Censored by Tiane Doan Na Champassak is available now, published by RVB Books.