Behind the Lens – Bangkok Red Shirt Protester

Red Shirt Protester in Bangkok, Thailand

In the spirit of VH1, I am going to start taking time each week to tell the stories behind some of my favorite photos.

This week I want to tell the story behind the photo of the red shirt protester I took in Bangkok in 2010.

I arrived in Bangkok in early 2010 to take a few months off from running around to rest and work. During that time, protests began by a Thai political faction known as the red shirts, who were aligned with former Thai prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra.

The red shirts base of support was mostly in rural areas, so tens of thousands of them decended on Bangkok to protest the government of Abhisit Vejjajiva, who they claim never was elected democratically.

The protests began peaceful enough with people camping out in the government areas of Bangkok. Over time the protests became more and more aggressive.

At one point they began collecting human blood from the 10,000’s of assembled protesters with the intent of dumping it at the door of Prime Minister Abhist’s house. It turned out that the PM’s house was only 2 blocks away from where I was staying on Sukhumvit Soi 33, so on the morning they were to dump the blood, I showed up with my camera.

This was an honest to goodness, bonafide news event. Reporters and photographers from around the world were there cover the protest. Most of the media had special armbands which identified them as journalists. Most of the people employed by the larger, western outlets also had helmets in addition to their media credentials.

I was a white guy with a fancy camera, so everyone just assumed I was a part of the media. In reality, I was just a curious blogger who wanted to get some photos.

On one end of the street were several thousand red shirt protesters. I don’t know the exact number, but it could have been as high as 10,000. Not only were there many protesters but they were crammed into a very small space and they appeared to be the vanguard of the movement.

On the other side of the street were hundreds of police in full riot gear.

In between them were the media and me.

Up to this point, none of the protests had gotten violent (two months later, the protests did turn very violent, but I had left Thailand by that time). I figured the odds of things going bad were low, perhaps only 10%. If things did go bad, I didn’t think I would get targeted as I was clearly not Thai and had no really part in this fight. Nonetheless, I mentally had an escape route planned so I could at least get off the street if something happened.

As the protesters began to assemble to get ready for their march down the street to the PM’s house, it began to rain.

All of the media photographers sought shelter as the rain came down. I, however, had the foresight to bring a small umbrella with me which left me as the only photographer on the street in the rain.

As the media left the street, a single protester dressed in black combat gear stepped forward to stand in front of the police. He stood confidently with his hands behind his back as if he was going to stare down the entire police force by himself.

While simultaneously holding my umbrella and my camera, I stood in the center of the street to take his photo. At one point he turned around and I clicked the shutter and got the photo.

What I like about the photo is that it captures the strength and bravery of a single man staring down a much larger and better armed force. It is my own personal Tiananmen Square photo.

Of all the photographers who were there, all of whom where more experienced than myself, I was the only one who got this shot because I was the only one willing to stand out in the rain.

Photo Information

Camera: NIKON D200
Exposure Time: 0.0166s (1/60)
Aperture: f/4
ISO: 100
Focal Length: 50mm
Exposure Program: aperture priority
Exposure Bias: -1/3 EV