Sunday, June 2, 2013

Who Was That Masked Man?

A legless man leads a protest march down a flight of stairs in the Bangkok skywalk system during the White Mask protest Sunday. The marchers were protesting alleged corruption in the government of Yingluck Shinawatra. 

There's a new anti-government protest movement in Bangkok. A group calling themselves the "White Mask" protesters and sporting the "Guy Fawkes" mask made famous by the movie "V for Vendetta" and the hackers' group "Anonymous" are taking to the streets to protest against the government of Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra. They allege that her government is corrupt, is a puppet of exiled former PM Thaksin Shinawatra (Yingluck's older brother) and has anti-monarchal views. In Thailand's color spectrum of politics, the White Masks are very closely related to the "Yellow Shirts."
Marchers in the skywalk between BTS Siam and Chit Lom stops

Thailand is an incredibly wired country. Almost everyone has a smart phone or tablet computer. The higher you are on the socio-economic ladder the more devices you own. Many of the White Masks are from Thailand's upper middle class and they are well equipped with digital devices. They spread the word about the protest on the internet and are threatening to use the internet and social media to harass the Yingluck Shinawatra government. 

Thai protesters are very media savvy. Whether they're Yellow Shirts, Red Shirts or White Masks, they know the value of a good "photo op." Which maybe explains why their march through central Bangkok Sunday, which included going up and down several flights of stairs, was led by a legless man who "walked" ahead most of the march using his hands. 
White Masks sing the King's Anthem at the end of their protest march

I photographed the march with my tiny Panasonic Lumix GX1. I'd met Scott Mc Kiernan, the founder and CEO of ZUMA Press, the agency that licenses my work, for brunch. Scott is in town for a newspaper conference and we spent a couple of hours talking about the state of the photo industry and ZUMA's role in the industry. (The state of the industry is not too good, but Scott has some exciting plans for ZUMA, so I'm optimistic.) We took the Skytrain over to the conference and ran into the protesters marching through the skytrain system. 

This is why I always carry a camera in Bangkok. I had no expectations of doing any photography when I left my apartment. But something almost always comes up and the GX1 is a perfect take anywhere, carry about camera. My entire GX1 kit (camera body, 14mm f2.5, 20mm f1.7 and 45mm f1.8 lenses) weighs less than a 5D Mark III body and one lens. The GX1 is a Micro 4:3 camera with a 2X crop sensor, so the 14 is more or less equal to a 28mm in full frame or film terms, the 20 = a 40mm lens etc.   

There are more photos from the march in my archive or available from ZUMA
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