In our daily lives, time often moves too quickly for us to notice. In October 2016, I arrived in Bangkok as a visitor to a city in mourning. In the days following King Bhumibol Adulyadej’s death, time made itself known. I felt its presence. I could sense moments slowing down, the collective grief of the Thai people drawing attention to time’s passage. Later, in the evenings, time would snap back to a buzz, enlivening the nightlife that the city is known for. I had never experienced such a distinct ebb and flow of time before, and I hoped to capture it through my photographs.
Below is a personal journal entry from that week:
Bangkok, October 29, 2016
How to feel time’s presence after a king dies? Infinite moments collect, reverberating in my teeth. The back of my jaw clenches from sadness, while the curtains of my cheeks push out an empathetic smile at the mention of his name. Here in the heart of Thailand, just two weeks after King Bhumibol’s death, understanding has become a gift, like a carefully folded note that’s passed from one hand to the next.
We see things differently when someone beloved is gone. Now, the days seem to move in ripples, like water curling in the wake of those who journey on a timeless river. In the city of Bangkok, the wake left by King Bhumibol’s death is felt in tiny waves of time, coming and going, slowing down and speeding up the pace of the city.
To Bangkok: no one truly disappears and nothing is truly lost. He lives beneath the surface of that timeless river, within reach of those who traverse it. He lives in the unspoken understanding that passes from person to person, each interaction a precious, small gift. What lies in our hands now are those gifts: grace, dignity and humanity, given to and from the hearts of the Thai people.
We cannot let ourselves be trapped in the uncertainty of what comes next. Let our hearts beat together. Allow yourself to feel the boundlessness of “now.” Together, we feel time’s presence.
—Argus Paul Estabrook
This series was conceived and created during the Magnum Photos Bangkok Workshop with David Alan Harvey. It was originally published in Burn Magazine.
Editors’ note: Argus Paul Estabrook is a member of the LensCulture Network, a recent initiative we launched with the idea of offering talented, accomplished photographers a place to showcase their work on a global stage while also giving them a place to share, learn and engage with one another. The LensCulture Network began with a small number of hand-picked members, and we are very excited to watch it grow and evolve.
If you enjoyed this article, you might also like one of these previous features: The House of the Raja, an enigmatic, compelling series on an abandoned temple in a forgotten corner of Thailand; Fighting for a Pittance, Sandra Hoyn’s award-winning project on young Muay Thai boxers; and Life Before Death, side-by-side portraits of people just before—and shortly after—death.