An important figure in Thailand’s flourishing art scene, Piyatat Hemmatat is one of the country’s leading photographers. His powerful work has earned him international acclaim and he says that he knew early on that art would play a significant role in his life.
“I loved to draw as a child but it wasn’t until I went to boarding school in the UK at the age of 13 that I began to think I could make a career out of it.”
Following school Piyatat earned a bachelor’s degree in fine art from City & Guild London Art School and a master’s degree in visual art from Chelsea College of Art & Design. It was as an undergraduate student that his interest shifted towards photography. “I would say it was a natural progression. I was already taking photos as a support medium for my drawings and paintings,” he explains. “It was quite instinctual—somehow photography became more interesting as it constantly took me out on adventures.”
Piyatat’s eye for composition led him to being picked up by a small gallery in London soon after graduating. While occasionally exhibiting his work he learned his craft and earned his living as a commercial photographer. Then after 16 years in the UK in 2007 he decided it was time to return to Thailand. This entailed a period of adjustment but he says it also galvanised him.
“Something about being home and reconnecting with my family and country really spurred me creatively and I was very busy for a couple years working to secure the finances to establish my own studio and alternative art space, RMA Institute.”
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What is it about photography that is so appealing? “It’s a kind of alchemy,” he says. “You work with light, put it through some chemicals and you end up with a fragment of time on a piece of paper. Photography is supposed to reveal some form of truth, but it can also withhold so much and I find that seductive. A truly interesting image for me is one that provokes more questions than it gives answers,” he smiles.
Over the years his chefs d’oeuvres have encompassed a variety of narratives and subject matter, all captivating reflections of nature and the society in which we live. But the humble shutterbug highlights the fact that his art requires a continual learning process. “With each new project I make myself a student again,” he says. “There is a sense of the unknown and wonderment at the start of a new challenge, which is important to keep me motivated.”
People often wonder where creative folk get their inspiration but Piyatat says there is no mystery. “Nature is one of the most important elements for me but I can be inspired by a range of sources—for example, ancient ideas and tales stemming from different religions and cultures. Even music. It is a powerful muse and in my free time I play a bit of guitar to relax.”
Given his penchant for working with old-fashioned film, it is no surprise that Piyatat is a curator for Leica Gallery at Gaysorn Village. In 2015 he collaborated with other prominent artists to established Photo Bangkok, the city’s first local photography festival, and of late his own work has become increasingly experimental—as reflected in Eden, a recent multimedia exhibition that combines his new-found interest in sculpting with photography.
Above all else, bachelor Piyatat considers himself an adventurer experimenting with the subjectivity of art and the scientific.“I want to push the boundaries to see how far I can go with this medium,” he says. “In order to become a good photographer, one must find that fine balance between the aesthetic, concept and technique. That is a never-ending quest.”