Graceful, mesmerising, haunting

Late Day Meadow. Photos: Shane Bunnag

‘Beautiful”, “metaphysical” and “concept heavy” would be the best words to describe Kathmandu Photo Gallery’s latest exhibition “Dryopes”.

Curated by gallery owner Manit Sriwanichpoom as a part of his New Visions series, Dryopes by Thai-British independent filmmaker Shane Bunnag is a personal exploration of life, memories, change and mythology all at once — a large departure from his usual documentary-based filmmaking.

Thumb-tacked onto the gallery walls are a series of long exposure landscapes of Mani, Greece — Bunnag’s childhood home — and France, a melancholic holiday spot of his. Shot in both film, digital, and colour and black-and-white, patterned on all the landscapes is a ghostly figure — moving, withering and seemingly floating in front of each frame.

There’s a black-and-white set of a glowing white maiden floating in a lush forest. A nude blur swooping in front of a sapphire star-speckled sky, and a red haze fluttering among a grassy field. The photo sets are graceful, mesmerising and at the same time very haunting — as if the gods or the spirits of the land had appeared into the frame.

Gallery visitors can view the photographs as beautiful pictorial-like works of art, or go deep into the metaphysical realm (which Bunnag and most at the opening event, except this writer, seemed to lean towards).

The photographs can be an ode to not only the beautiful landscapes, but the spirits and gods that occupy them as well. They can reference Thai animism and Western pagan rituals.

They can also reference a former Greek settlement Dryopes, or Greek mythology — particularly Metamorphoses by Ovid, a Roman poet and playwright, in which a nymph named Dryope transforms herself into a tree to try and escape from Apollo, seeking to find refuge in transformation.

“I really wouldn’t want to tell anyone what they should think about it or how they should interpret it,” said Bunnag. “I was thinking whether it has a universal message, and I think it’s the way mythology should be handled. That it’s not necessarily the story, but the way that you interpret the story. In the interpretation, you’re revealing yourself and you’re looking into your own life.”

For Bunnag, the photographs not only deal with the concepts mentioned above, but look into his memories and his own personal transformation as well.

The project had evolved naturally one winter in his childhood home in southern Greece. Stuck in a cold uninsulated cabin without anything to do, Bunnag and his wife decided to go trekking up the ancient hills and mountains surrounding the area.

“I think it was partly this interaction with nature that’s at the heart of it all,” explained Bunnag. “We went out, and explored the mountains in a way I hadn’t [since I was a teenager]. And it made us quite giddy. I really wanted to capture that feeling. And from there it kind of moved forward organically. From digital film to digital still, from then having to use film as I didn’t feel like the other media was capturing it. It reawakened something I felt about photography when I was much younger and I kind of discarded.”

The project then slowly and organically evolved from just capturing the “poetic documentations of the land” to an exploration of memories and Bunnag’s own state of impermanence.

“I had to live all over the place in my life,” he said. “And a lot of the project is about looking at change in myself. I’m wondering who I am as a different person in each place — the lives I had in Greece, or England or here in Thailand. Sometimes they don’t connect at all, but there’s some thread running throughout it. There’s a ghostly side to this photography with spectres of myself. There are feelings I’ve had before that continually come back — like you see a certain place, a certain tree, a stone wall or a sunset, or I went through this and that point in my life that felt so important and it was lost, and it comes back. In a way, it could be haunting. But it’s inspiring too.”

Like the nymph in Ovid’s Metamorphoses, Bunnag is looking to find refuge in his own transformations, something many of us can probably relate to. But still, there is no limit in what anyone can interpret from these photographs. It’s all up to us to decide.

Early Spring.

Searching For The Lost Path.