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A photographer princess

Her Royal Highness Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana talks about her passion for photography and her memorable photo-shooting experience in the Kenyan Savannah.

Photo: Patipat Janthong

Armed with her Leica camera and fixed lens, HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana, the youngest daughter of His Majesty King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun, woke up before sunrise -- at 5am -- and rode a jeep and hot-air balloon in search of the Big Five game animals of Kenya that are hardest to shoot on foot. In tough weather conditions, dusty and humid, she captured moments in the savannahs through still and motion pictures while illustrating her quest in her personal sketchbook. She worked until twilight shed the best lighting. At night, she rested in a tent with no phone signal. This happened every day throughout her five-day journey in Kenya in May 2018.

This trip bore the fruit of the Princess' first solo photo exhibition, "Little Wild", since her 2011 Bangkok photo exhibition.

HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana has once again showcased her prodigious ability in capturing images through photography during her solo exhibition 'Little Wild', running at Leica Gallery Bangkok until April 28. Photo: Patipat Janthong

Running from now until April 28 at Leica Gallery Bangkok, Gaysorn Village, the exhibition showcases colour and black- and-white photos taken by the Princess in Kenya. Africa was among the destinations the Princess travelled to in pursuit of experience and inspiration for each fashion collection.

The Princess is well-known as a fashion designer, badminton player, equestrian (dressage) and symphony-orchestra patron. She has a passion and talent for all of these as well as photography.

The Princess loves the National Geographic type of pictures that depict the beauty of nature. Her favourite photo from the "Little Wild" exhibition is The Lady, a female lion which required a lot of time and a lot of risk to shoot at close range.

While in Kenya, the Princess was mesmerised by the natural beauty around her as well as the ferocious yet graceful moments of wildlife, including the Big Five (the African lion, the black rhinoceros, the African elephant, the African leopard and the Cape buffalo), tigers, hippos and giraffes. Her interest was extended toward the Maasai, an ethnic tribe she met and whose way of life she experienced.

"I focus on capturing the immediate feeling of the moment, as I want to retain its natural qualities as much as possible," the Princess said when addressing the opening of her photo exhibition.

"I spend the majority of my time in the city, so it is no surprise that most of the photos I take are either about fashion or the urban lifestyle. It is not very often that I get the chance to take in such pure, untainted scenery. For that reason, whenever the opportunity arises, I want to capture all the little details through snapshots as keepsakes."

After the opening, the Princess spoke to Life about her interest and experiences in photography as well as her work philosophy.

What is your favourite kind of photo and what technique do you prefer?

I like the National Geographic style and landscape photography as well as history and memorial situations that capture moments and memories. I am not for fashion photos, but prefer keeping journals and good memories. When I was a Mathayom 4 student in Chitralada School, I was the vice-president of the school's photography club. I was a school activity photographer. I loved to learn film development.

Little Wild ++++++++++++ HRH Princess Sirivannavari Nariratana has once again showcased her prodigious ability in capturing images through photography during her solo exhibition "Little Wild", running at Leica Gallery Bangkok until April 28. Leica Gallery Bangkok

Please tell us about your past experiences in photography, including those in Kenya.

When I was young, I borrowed a camera from my school. I had no good cameras of my own. I took pictures of school activities, such as foreign students' visits. I felt relaxed and had a lot of fun. After I entered my career, I had opportunities to work at Lips magazine where I did fashion photo shoots using Hasselblad, Olympus and Polaroid cameras. I also worked at Praew magazine for a while. I also captured photos of the flooding as a water journal. I had not touched cameras for six years.

During my Kenya trip, I liked the time around 6.45pm the most -- when I was on my way back from the savannahs. I loved the way all those ladies -- lionesses -- were as if they were saying, 'Look at me'. It was not difficult to take their pictures because they were sitting or standing still and turning around, some even wagging their tails. They were cute. I like taking pictures at twilight because no lighting adjustment is needed and it is real nature.

I brought my backpack, inhaler, balm and neck pillow. The aircraft was not new. The trip was very tough. My backpack was finally torn and I had to buy a new one after returning from Kenya. Besides five days in Kenya, I later spent three days in Sam Phan Bok with some hardships as wel

How did you feel when riding a balloon, seeing the savannahs and taking photos of the Big Five?

It was unbelievable and very impressive about the Big Five -- every single one of them. It's just a wow! I told the chauffeur, 'I want to take this. I want to take this', and he would drive me there. I was very impressed. But sometimes they [the Big Five] themselves came to us. For example, I saw rhinos near my hot-air balloon. They were huge and strong, but what I had was a fixed lens. I could not bend myself toward them, so I could only look at them and do video-clip shooting. I saw all the Big Five plus cheetahs, which were on trees. I also spotted meerkats and very strong crocodiles. I'd love to go to the North Pole and Iceland as well. I do not expect it to be like a travel magazine. I just want to be a person carrying a camera to shoot bears and lions, which is very unique.

Who are your favourite photographers, both Thai and foreign?

As for fashion photography, I like Mario Testino, who photographed Prince William. As for the National Geographic type, I like and always follow up on National Geographic's underwater photos. I also like Steve McCurry. I admire war photographers ranging from those who worked in Vietnam to those in Afghanistan. It is so sad about the loss of a number of war journalists each year.

You have keen interest in various subjects and are strongly determined to work and bring about the best. What is your key to success?

I have long been in the fashion industry. I have meet many people. But being a jet-setter is not what I am vying for. I am very interested in art and know I can do much more. Our eyes are natural lenses. I am not a professional photographer; I just want to deliver what I see with my eyes and the unseen in different ways. Everything I do, I do my best. I experience obstacles like other people do. As a human being, I am subject to criticisms and must accept both positive and negative ones. People have different points of view. I must listen to good reason and improve myself by looking at my work. I have come so far to reach this point.

What is your tip for working happily?

Every day, I do everything with happiness. Now, I feel very happy to be in the art circle, dive, indulge in music and ride a horse. The next best thing is to be with my nine babies -- my pet dogs -- and work in my personal library. I also have fun while cooking. After all, I want your support for my latest work [the photo exhibition] besides my fashion collections.

What is your work inspiration? What would you like to tell the new generation who are in search of success at work?

A number of young people have passion but no patience. Older people have more patience. We must keep learning, be well-rounded and profound and know when and how to stop. We must make the best use of time, open our eyes to the world, pay attention to other things than those of our interest. Nowadays, fewer people work by hand. Artists should know how to work by hand even in the digital age. Sometimes, we need to go back to basics.

"Little Wild" is running until April 28, 10am-8pm, at Leica Gallery Bangkok, 2nd Floor of Gaysorn Village. Entry is free. For more information, call 02-656-1102.

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