Mind the Gap: Chasing Light at a Bangkok Train Station

In February 2016, I came across a Wired article which featured photographs by Thai photographer Rammy Narula taken at the Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok. I was totally captivated by the light in his photos. As a photography student, one of my biggest challenges has been learning how to use light to create better images. Sometimes the light isn't under our control, and we have to work with what we've got. Other times, we have to be able to recognize the "right" light when it graces us with its presence. What inspired me the most about Mr. Narula's story is that he frequented and photographed passengers at this train station for four years before seeing the light at Platform 10. I don't think he just stumbled upon it. He had learned to see it. 

And now I had to see it, too. 

I've been to Bangkok a few times, mostly using it as a jumping-off point, to visit my dad in nearby Pattaya. This year's trip was different, as I was in the middle of my photography program, armed with fresh knowledge and a shiny new FujiFilm X-T1, ready to take on the world with my camera. I wanted to see if I, too, could capture Mr. Narula's magical light, and the way it made such a plain-looking train station look so enchanting in that beautifully dark, shadowy film noir style.

I woke up at 5:30am to catch local bus #53 to Hua Lamphong. I had never taken the local bus before, but being in Bangkok I knew that it was never a bad idea to leave early. I only had one day in BKK (my bus to Pattaya was already booked for later that afternoon) and was so engrossed in the pursuit of this light that I didn't grab food or even water for fear of missing the shot. The train at Platform 10, bound for the northern city of Chiang Mai, was supposed to depart at 7am. I arrived at 6:45, grateful that I had woken up as early as I had; walked around, took a few photos, and sure enough it was 8:15- Thai time- before the train rolled in for boarding. I had been sweating and hungry this entire time and was grateful when it finally came. 

Unfortunately there weren't a lot of people on the platform that morning, but I saw the light, and it was indeed magical, blasting through the gap between the train and the roof of the platform, casting beautiful shadows on everyone below; clouds of mist floating at my camera as the cleaners walked by with their power-washer and window mops; me drenched in sweat and furiously clicking away. For that brief moment, everything else- my thirst, my discomfort, my anxiety- disappeared. It could have been twenty minutes, but it felt like two, and suddenly the train blew the whistle and it was off. I caught the bus back to my hostel, severely dehydrated and starving with just a handful of good shots, but the effort was all worth it.

The feeling is hard to describe, but that day I felt more in-tune than I ever have with a camera in my hand. I welcomed the pressure of only having one opportunity, one brief window of time, to step up and do what I came to do. But the hard part was already done for me, thanks to Mr. Narula. His work inspired me to chase that light, to always be vigilant, to mind that gap and never think that you've learned it all. Because you can always find beauty in a familiar place; you just have to be able to recognize it.

I hope you will enjoy the photos as much as I enjoyed shooting them.