Photographer Poupay is animating the world, again, as it slowly wakes up. From Bangkok to New York, Poupay seeks to find beauty and colour in the everyday, the chaotic and the unexpected. Featured in the New York Times’ 2021: The Year in Pictures, Poupay’s work spans many different realms: illuminating a sense of realism, isolating the political but most importantly revels in the quiet moments of love.
Welcome to Metal! Thank you for taking the time to speak to us! You go by the moniker Poupay, when did you start going by this name and why?
Hello! Thank you so much for having me here! I love Metal Magazine. Actually this Poupay nickname has stayed with me since I was born! Every Thai person has a nickname. My mum is the one who gave me the name. She thought it sounded cute.
You're a photographer who has been featured internationally, but home is in Bangkok (Thailand) and New York City. What is home to you?
Right now my home is New York City. I really enjoy working here as a photographer. I started my photography when I was in Bangkok, but I developed my work in NYC. There are still so many things in the photo industry here to explore.
What made you pick up a camera and pursue photography?
I picked up my first camera when I was in high school. At first it was just for fun shooting friends and school events. Then it became more serious when I discovered street photography after I graduated. I was into it so much that I quit my full-time video editor job to pursue photography here in NYC.
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How has living and growing up in dense cities affected how your photography captures people, movements, objects and landscapes?
Yes, of course. I love chaotic scenes. I think it’s because I'm from Bangkok where everything is so messy. I love messy stuff. I love imperfect things. I love the energy of people here in NYC. They're fast and furious. Just like Bangkok. I once visited my aunt’s house in the northern part of Thailand. It was very calm and quiet. That is not for me. I lived there for just two weeks and was dying to go back in the city. I'm a city girl.
Now let’s get straight into your work if you don’t mind. The first thing that I noticed about your work is its effervescence! All your pictures feel like a life lived to the fullest and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen colour come to life like that in a while! What is your aim when you take pictures, is there a meta-narrative?
I love to make this I see pop! Sometimes I shoot detailed stuff so I want to help them shine vibrantly. I also want to confuse people somehow [to make them question] whether this is staged or not.
What does your post-processing look like?
I have my own colour preset in my lightroom and that's pretty much it. I try to frame at my best when I’m shooting so that I don't have to do much post-processing. I'm not very good at that.
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Scrolling through your portfolio it looks like your photography has no restrictions, everything is fair game to be captured; from wrapping paper to confetti to street vendors. What's the process when deciding who, what and how to capture something? It is candid or prepared?
I would say something fun will catch my attention in the first place. The definition of fun is different for every person. Maybe it is something you don’t see yourself doing in the ordinary day. Many of my photos came from events in the city; Lunar New Year, Halloween, Valentine’s Day, etc. I love to go to those events to shoot. They are fun for me. Mostly my photos are candid. Lately they’ve been half-candid. People I photographed were aware of me when I was shooting. I didn’t really ask for permission, but I smiled to them. Then most of the time people allow me to be a quiet observer whilst taking photos.
A common trope in your current work is the people of New York (from pink-bandanas to alien-masked individuals). Does looking through a camera lens allow you to perceive people with more than meets eye?
A camera definitely gives me more confidence to walk up to people and get to know them better. I have many happy stories that were made after doing that. I had a chance to talk to strangers and sometimes we become friends.
Isolation during the pandemic must have changed a lot for you, as it did for the world, but how has this affected you as a photographer?
I would say my work is 90% outdoor so the pandemic definitely had an effect. For about four months, I was stuck at home cooking with my roommates. Thankfully my cooking skills levelled up. At that time I didn’t do any photography at all. There was a time I thought I should start something different, like staging some objects, but I decided not to because I don’t think that’s my strength. I could be wrong not trying new stuff. I just didn’t feel it. After months of being a home cook, when things started to pick up, I started going out shooting on the streets again.
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What are the joys and woes of freelancing in New York, maybe before you become established?
I don’t think I’m established. I’m still hustling as I was before, maybe things are a little bit better because I finally can stop doing jobs that I’m not happy to do. But I still have to balance hustling for money and making personal work. It is pretty stressful waiting for a call from photo editors. Some months I only get two calls. I realised there is no perfect job so I must admit my unstable freelance life.
Your project for the New York Times: Keep Love Close explores what love looks like in response to the Asian and Asian American hate in the United States. Racism is intricate as a socio-political paradigm, but in my opinion more so a humanitarian issue. Firstly, do you consider your work to be political and why?
I think my work is political in some way. I captured life. For example, I shot Black Friday every year because it is interesting for me to see how capitalism can affect us. The project Keeping Love Close is political to me. But in a heartwarming voice.
Secondly, if you were to verbally explain your photo series in very few words, what does love look like in a time or in the face of hate?
Our loved ones will be with us no matter what. We should embrace them deeply.
Finally, what keeps you capturing the beautiful? What is your inspiration or your muse?
I love the ordinary. I love imperfection. Walking on the streets, seeing surprising things, exploring new places, meeting new people really keep me alive in the city. May be that’s why I’m really drawn to street photography because I love surprising moments. I love being surrounded by the energy of people. And yes, I am still a quiet observer.
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