The human condition contains countless depths and multitudes, but what’s captured on camera is very often limited to a particular type of body and person. Thai fashion photographer Surachai Saengsuwan wants more, and he actively seeks out models with different stories to tell. He trains his camera on the differently abled, people with non-binary gender identities, and a range of skin tones and body types—all of whom are depicted in shoots resembling classic paintings and dreamscapes brimming with collaborative energy.
Saengsuwan is a well-known photographer pushing boundaries many are happy to pretend don’t exist. He’s an award-winning photographer who’s taught his trade as a professor for seven years and was fashion editor at L’ Officiel Thailand for three years. But he’s not content to simply relax in a bubble of success and finds himself drawn to lesser-told stories. “I’m portraying the story of human beings, especially the ones who need a louder voice,” he explains.
A recent shoot called Stairs To Stars revolves around a group of children with Down syndrome gathered around a mother figure with their chins held high and proud. “The concept is about beauty inside and out,” Saengsuwan says. Shot in a dreamy, 80s mall portrait style, the kids wear crowns representing their own personal achievements while the woman at the center references caring and forgiveness.
Saengsuwan revels in the beauty of the human form, and another recent series called Rebirth: Immigrant features a wide range of fully bare skin tones. The nude cast of fit models writhes under flesh-toned arches in a style resembling epic Renaissance paintings. The shots are full of depth and motion, the pile of bodies surging and retreating as flags ripple with a snap in the wind.
The idea of paintings is a common feature of Saengsuwan’s work, and he frequently employs body paint for additional texture. He’s even extended the paint into the background, blurring the line between painting and photography entirely, stacking new layers onto the already extensive list of fashion photography elements including styling, makeup, hair, modeling, and more. “Each aspect has its own history, aesthetics, and philosophy,” he says. “Sometimes the process of gathering everything together is more of an art form for me than the photos themselves.”
At the center of all these layers are Saengsuwan’s subjects, the ones whose faces end up in front of the rest of the world. “I look for different kinds of people in order to tell better and newer stories,” he explains. “I also learn a lot from them. I find new perspectives and inspirations, and I hope to share these lessons with other people.” He says that everyone has a story to tell and he hopes to spread understanding between different walks of life. “We all have our own lives and deserve the right to our bodies and the power a make a space for ourselves.”