Thailand Footprint: The People, Things, Literature, and Music of Thailand and the Region

Wat Phra Non Chak Si Worawihan

Wat Phra Non Chak Si Worawihan

TF Eric, I am pleased to welcome you here at Thailand Footprint. I have just spent the last 30 minutes looking at a file of your photographs and I came away thoroughly impressed. The hardest part of this interview, I can already tell, will be selecting the 12 photographs I plan to run. I also have many questions for you, so here goes: Tell me about your interest in photography. How it started. How long you have been doing it. Has it been an avocation, a vocation or both?

Spirit House

Spirit House

EN Thank you Kevin, I’m excited to talk with you today.

My interest in photography came from an odd place. As a kid, I was an avid malacologist, i.e. collector and studier of specimen sea shells and the animals in them, buying from dealers all over the world. I wanted to do a slide presentation using the specimens I had in my collection at the time. My dad had a 35mm camera and tripod so I did a simple setup and photographed them. My interest in photography grew and the relationship between photography and shell collecting was a symbiotic one for a time till photography became my main interest. I no longer collect, and haven’t for over 40 years as the ocean needs all it’s animals intact, but I still have an extensive collection.

Photography has been both a vocation and an avocation, but for the last 30 years it’s mainly been a vocation and I’ve worked in many parts of the photo industry from commercial labs to photo journalism to studio, location, and stock photography and lastly owning and operating a custom B&W lab service in Chicago for 21 years, Archival Custom Printing- (ACP).

Barber with Mother at shop

Bangkok barber and mom at shop

TF  I was particularly struck by your photographs of Thailand and neighboring countries. I’d like to focus on three: Thailand; Myanmar and Cambodia. How are they similar and how are they different? How much time have you spent in Myanmar vs Cambodia?

Buddhists Monks proceed in Myanmar

Buddhists Monks proceed in Myanmar 

EN Of the 3 places you asked about, Myanmar is the most different from Thailand.  I don’t speak a word of Burmese but my Thai and English got me by somewhat.  People will smile back at you here in Thailand but in Myanmar they don’t.  They seemed more serious in some respects, seemed being the operative word there.
There’s something about the light there that’s different than Cambodia and Thailand.  Just like how in a place like New Mexico where the light has always been lauded, Myanmar’s light is somehow different than other SEA countries.  I liked shooting there a lot, but my trip was pretty short and insulated to make any more specific comparisons.  I’ve spent a total of 2 weeks in Cambodia at this point.
Cambodia’s light seemed a bit harsh even in the morning with haze, but mornings and evenings here in Thailand are great for shooting.  By getting shots with “window” light such as in the noodle shop image, one can escape the harsh look of midday sun here.
Noddle shop located on Sukhumvit 101

Noodle shop located on Sukhumvit 101

TF Tell me about Chicago, where you lived for many years, from a photographer’s perspective?
EN When I was in Chicago, the city became old and ugly to me and uninteresting photographically.  Many others will disagree and that’s great as there are photo opportunities there for those who can see them.  I just could not.  I think that can happen if you live somewhere too long.  I’ve always traveled to SEA just to shoot; for myself and for stock photography.  I’ve always been drawn to Asia with my camera.  5 months of the year in Chicago is inhospitable for shooting outside whether it be rain, snow or the cold.  I did a lot of studio shooting during my time there.
Fisherman's Canal - Chicago

Michael Moore lookalike at Fisherman’s Canal – Chicago

TF  What is it about Bangkok that makes it such a fertile place to take photographs – how would you explain it? Help  others understand what makes it so great?

EN The key, I believe, is to get out each day, and see things with new eyes, like one newly arrived.  I don’t believe it is a bad thing at all as it keeps your vision fresh and one’s self interested.

Bangkok and Thailand for that matter is a great shooting destination.  Personally, I’m not that interested in shooting well known spots. One should go to the Grand Palace and so on once in their life for sure, but I’ve no inclination to return to well known “family vacation” destinations for my photography.  I find that almost any street here will do nicely.  There will be someone or something one can shoot.  People here are genuinely cooperative if not downright happy when I ask to take their photograph.  All one has to do is just go for a walk in your neighborhood and you’ll find fascinating things to shoot.  I’ve just moved to a new neighborhood and I’m looking forward to getting out and shooting here as there’s a large Muslim population and diverse groups of people living all around me.

Modes of transport here also fascinate me.  The boats and motocy taxis aren’t found in the US and where we have them (specifically boats) they are not utilitarian and geared more often to tourists.  In S.E.A. it’s just another way to get around and I love it.  I don’t drive here and hate even being a passenger in a car here.  I much prefer any other method to get places if it’s safe.  Those are opportunities to see the streets  and life in general in a different way instead of in an air con car w/tinted windows.  That and the fear-inducing traffic and driving styles here makes the trains and boats and walking much more appealing to me.
I try to keep myself open to as many subjects as possible whether it be people, places or things.  I do enjoy photographing people as there are some unique looks folks have here and in other countries in S.E.A.  People are much more approachable here than in the US where they don’t have time to stop for you or are just suspicious or irascible in general.
Motorcy Taxi Drivers near BTS Stop

Bangkok Motorcy Taxi Drivers near BTS Stop

TF How has the digital age impacted your profession, both positively and negatively?

EN My lab, ACP was where I was negatively affected by the change to digital.  I had many clients up until the day I closed my doors who were trying to keep film alive, not just for it’s own sake but because it’s the way they liked to work and they preferred the look film gave them.
One day back in Chicago, I needed a cheap digital print and I uploaded the file to Walgreens, the national drug store chain, and within 15 minutes I got an email saying the print was ready at the store around the corner from me.  At that point I knew I could never compete with digital as handmade analog printing and processing takes time, and fewer and fewer people were willing to wait anymore.
I began offering drum scanning, digital-to-B&W film conversions via a 4×5 film recorder, and custom archival ink jet (digital) prints on rag paper, but even the cachet of the custom hands on printing and scanning was not enough to bring in a large volume of work as many photographers are making those prints and scans in their own studios, and others are just sending their work to Walgreens or the like as the quality isn’t that important for a lot of work.  Also the need to go to print at all, all but disappeared in advertising and commercial photography.
Siem Reap, Cambodia

Siem Reap, Cambodia

TF What is the best photographing advice you have ever received?

Bicyclist in Cambodia

Bicyclist in Cambodia

EN Best photographic advice is my own as well, which is to keep shooting.  Whatever it is you want to shoot, whether film or digital, just keep at it.

Buddhist Funeral

Buddhist Funeral

TF Do you have any projects in the works? What is your ideal photographing assignment? Do you prefer freelance work over model shoots or is it a balance that you strive for?
EN I have two teaching projects in their early stages right now both requiring my darkroom + digital.  The first is to teach some folks here how to do wet plate photography.  The major stumbling block I’ve run into there is the chemistry.  Shipping from my suppliers in the US is very expensive and it’s arrival is iffy at best.  One supplier told me of a shipment he made to Singapore that took 3 months to arrive.  So I’m in search of companies that have the needed chemistry here in Thailand.
The other project is to teach alternative photo printing techniques such as cyanotypes or salted paper, using negatives made with a digital printer.  These historical processes require the negative to be the size of the image you want as the negatives are printed in contact with the paper.  Working from scans or digital files to print onto overhead transparency material allows one to easily make these large negatives.
Actually still life and product shoots interest me more than model shoots as those depend heavily on the talent and support people such as hair and make up.  I enjoy model shoots for a sideline as I can do pretty much whatever I want.
Bangkok Shophouse

Bangkok Shop House


TF If you had not been a professional photographer, can you imagine what other profession, in the arts, you might have liked to try?

EN I’m really at a loss to think of any profession other than photography!

Bangkok photographer Eric nelson arrives at the scene of a crime ... or perhaps he was already there?

Bangkok photographer Eric Nelson ponders what other profession he might enjoy as much as photography … detective, perhaps?

TF Thank-you, Eric for sharing your pictures and thoughts on photography at Thailand Footprint. Continued success to you in the great city of Bangkok, Thailand.

EN My pleasure, Kevin. I enjoyed it.


You can reach Bangkok based photographer Eric Nelson at his email address: Eric Nelson <emanphoto@ameritech[dot]net for information about his photographs and services or at the links below:

Eric Nelson Photography
086 343 1612
Powerpoint Portfolio Download:
PDF Portfolio Download:

3 Responses to “A Dozen Photographs and Interview with Bangkok Photographer Eric Nelson …”

  1. Melissa Ray

    Great interview with Eric! I am privileged to have been photographed by him on his wanders to the area of my Muay Thai gym. A talented photographer and a lovely guy too.

  2. Kevin Cummings

    Thanks, Melissa. Wow! Female Muay Thai Champion that lived in Thailand for six years. Fascinating. It does not surprise me that Eric ran into you and your gym as he was making his rounds.I appreciate your comment. I’ll be in touch about a future interview with you.

  3. A Rematch with Champions … at Eminent Air Boxing Gym in Bangkok … | Thailand Footprint: Impressions left by the books, people, places and music of Thailand and South East Asia

    […] Sometimes it is better to be lucky than good. Last spring, shortly after starting Thailand Footprint I had a lot of good luck. A friend introduced me to professional photographer, Eric Nelson from Chicago. Eric became the second interview I did on this blog. You can see that interview and 12 of his photographs by clicking here.: A DOZEN PHOTOGRAPHS AND INTERVIEW WITH ERIC NELSON. […]


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