A photographer with rare access to King Bhumibol Adulyadej
Kraipit Phanvut was able to bring particular intimacy to photographs of Thailand's late king
NOZOMU OGAWA, Nikkei staff photographer
BANGKOK -- Most Thai people view the royal family as an almost sacred institution to be treated with utmost respect. For that reason, photographers always have to be careful how and where they point their lenses, even for news coverage.
Photographer Kraipit Phanvut was one of the few people granted relatively close-up access to King Bhumibol Adulyadej, who died on Oct. 13. The king was formally succeeded on Dec. 1 by his only son, who is now titled King Maha Vajiralongkorn Bodindradebayavarangkun.
Phanvut, 66, runs a photo gallery in Bangkok's central business district lined with countless portraits of the royal family. He previously worked as a news photographer for Western news agencies -- United Press International and Agence France-Presse -- covering a wide range of events in Asia, including the civil war in Vietnamese-occupied Cambodia and the Seoul Olympics in the 1980s.
Some 30 years ago, he also started taking photos of King Bhumibol after obtaining permission from the Bureau of the Royal Household. At that time, the king frequently visited poverty-stricken rural areas looking for ways to invigorate the agricultural sector and improve livelihoods.
"I was warmed by the king's benevolence when he stopped to express his appreciation to people, who went down on their knees before him," Phanvut said. He also recalls how the king often carried on working by flashlight after dark.
Phanvut made it his life's work to follow the king taking pictures of him, and this won him rare access.
Getting up and moving around in the presence of the king would normally result in sharp reprimands from security personnel, but Phanvut was allowed special proximity. He became familiar to the king's entourage, but prefers not to go into details about his contacts there.
Rikio Imajo, 77, who worked as photo editor with Phanvut, described him as a conscientious and tenacious photographer. Imajo, who also covered the Vietnam War, said he never saw Phanvut breach his contract by selling photos to other press agencies.
In 1996, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the king's accession to the throne, Phanvut staged a photo exhibition and produced a book of his photographs. One shows the king playing a trumpet, another holding his favorite camera.
Phanvut retired from photography when the king became too ill to make public appearances. He is due to publish his second collection of royal pictures in January, with proceeds going to agricultural anti-poverty programs, and a stray dog protection program King Bhumibol supported.
"It will be my last service to the king," Phanvut said.