Nefarious Face of Chinatown

The heart of SouthEast Asia’s criminal underworld functions due to one place: Bangkok’s Chinatown. While 70% of male visitors to the country engage in the sex trade and 60% of all visitors engage in drug use, nearly none of them do it in Chinatown. The large neighborhood made up predominantly of Chinese immigrants controls the docks on the Chao Phraya River and supplies the city with nearly all of its imported goods. The main road of Yaowarat appears like any other Chinatown: littered with restaurants and street vendors selling imported goods and cheap street food, but venture off to one of the sois or behind the docks, you will see crime is a way of life here.

From fake DVDs and imitation luxury accessories, to prostitution and human trafficking, to opium dens and money laundering houses, Chinatown’s criminal element is on every corner yet hidden from the world. An American male in Chinatown, without the ability to speak Thai or Chinese, and without knowing the ‘wrong’ people, sets out on a journey to come in contact and build relation- ships with the local criminal element to bring an entire new series of works. Through arguments, physical altercations and run-ins with the local police I carried myself through the neighborhood and became accepted by the criminals who begin to trust me and allow me to take photos.

Over the course of 30 days I spent nearly every day in Bangkok’s Chinatown, betting on Fan-tan and Hi-lo with the old men and got tattooed with a magical sak yant tattoo by a master. I built relationships with prostitutes outside the tea shops, painted fake license plates and put together knock-off Louis Vuitton bags with local workers. I even spent a day with a young gang members riding around dropping off fake Valium and Viagra to shops and sellers around Bangkok. During the process I gathered artifacts relating to the neighborhood and it’s crime, some of which were confiscated by the law-firm owning the rights to Rolex and by the Danish police before the opening of a solo show at Copenhagen’s Vess Gallery containing the photos and artifacts from the series.

The series of photos shows a strong, underlining strength in the eyes of the pimps and drug lords and contrasts them with the tattooed hands of the criminals on the street. Through the photographic series I have taken the time to show that, here, the face of the criminals and crime itself are both honest and nefarious.