Photography exhibition 18 May – 8 June 2018 at Jam Cafe Bangkok of American urban explorer/photographer Dax Ward, as he documents forgotten cultural institutions and venues across Thailand, including stand-alone cinemas, a nightclub, an art gallery and a shopping mall. This selection is from his ongoing Abandonia project of abandoned spaces and curiosities from around the world.
ABANDONIA — Artist Statement
Every derelict location in Thailand has its own individual history, but each one is connected in the sense that they are reminders of what once was, what might’ve been, and what happens when we forget. They are no longer freshly painted, not shiny and new anymore. Windows are broken. Doors, furniture, light fixtures, and most metal has been either stolen or scrapped. They are not as they once were, nor will they ever again be. Nonetheless, despite the decay and rust that many see as unsightly blots on the landscape, the allure for urban explorers and photographers lies in identifying and capturing the remaining beauty in these forgotten locations. If we look closely, it isn’t hard to find.
Originally from Arkansas in the US, Dax has been living, working, and traveling in Asia since 2003. He’s been a Technology teacher in the Bangkok area since 2007, the city that he loves for its cultural vibrance and the fact that at any given moment he can find something remarkable to capture. Nowadays, Dax specialises in urban exploration imagery but his heart will always be in street portraiture.
Dax Ward goes beyond the regular urban explorer by also learning the fascinating stories behind each space he documents. We had a chance to chat with him about exploring abandoned spaces and the impermanence of everything.
What attracts you to abandoned spaces?
I’m interested in urban exploration & abandoned sites probably for the same reasons as a lot of other people. I enjoy knowing the history of derelict sites, what they used to be, and why they became abandoned. Each location had it’s own unique purpose within a community when in operation and likewise had its own reason or reasons for closing down and becoming forgotten. I think it’s really fascinating to walk through these special places and try to imagine what they were like when operating. Often it’s easy to picture. I especially like seeing places that have a colourful, odd or even creepy history, as those tend to make for the most captivating images.
What’s the craziest place you have found exploring?
There have been a few with some really strange backstories, but one that stands out is (what I call) the Dolphin Bay mansion in Prachuap Khiri-khan. It’s full of kitsch, completely out of place for Thailand. It actually looks like it belongs in 18th century France or something. It just doesn’t look like a practical place to live, even if it were finished. It has a shady backstory as to why it was left abandoned, but it’s probably best to not be specific. It’s a weird place.
Anything strange you have encountered?
While at the prison & shooting some images for my ongoing ‘Ghosts of Abandonia’ project, I took a series of 8 or so images which came out with a dark shadow over them (not included in this exhibition). I haven’t been able to get any definitive explanations for what may have caused when enquiring in photography forums. The figure in black is my girlfriend Mook, but I have no idea what is causing the overlaying shadow. I personally believe in rational explanations for things like this, but Thais are very superstitious about ghosts, so we had to go to the temple afterward for Mook to make merit. When we returned to the premises on the final day of shooting, we walked backward as we entered, which is something that some Thais believe appeases the ghosts. I personally don’t really believe in ghosts, but I do want to respect local customs when I can, as ghosts are a very tangible reality to people in Thailand.
Do you normally explore by yourself?
I’m sometimes alone, like I was at the New World Mall but usually, I’m with my wife Mook. She helps me to bargain and also models for me.
How do you find most of these sites?
Different ways. Sometimes they’re recommended to me by friends or acquaintances on social media. Other times I’ll drive by them on my bike or in my car, drop a map pin & return later. Other times I’ll do some research before I visit a particular city, and make a sort of checklist of places to try and shoot.
Is there anything we can learn from these abandoned spaces?
I think these places can serve as a reminder that nothing lasts forever. No matter how important or big & shiny something is at any point in time, it’s not permanent.
When I go to a place, I never intend to do any damage. I never break a lock. I just walk in and document the history and state of the place before it disappears.
—Dax Ward (Abandonia: Exploring abandoned sites with photographer Dax Ward ahead of solo show at JAM – Coconuts Bangkok)