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Ekkarat Punyatara

The Monk in New York

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I began this project  in New York with the idea that I believe Buddhism, or the middle way of Buddha, is the journey of each person’s mind observing very tiny feelings and mood for control and cognition of who we are, no matter how this world has changed or how far it has gone. Ever since  I was a teenager, when my mind began to distinguish the difference between the essentials of life and sensuality, I have realized how hard it is to deny those unnecessary desires, how hard it is to be a monk. I want to understand how monks restrain their passion in a world full of temptation and defilement. Looking at my own faith, I found no answer; I don’t know what the monk’s life is. In the world of photography, there are so many photographs of monks from the straightforward perspective of faith; we rarely see “life”. And that is what I want to represent, a way of life for people who firmly stand firm in the year of 2000, applying a method discovered and established for more than 2000 years ago: Don’t go too hard or too easy, stay simple.

“Camera or this kind of convenient stuff is just like a gun. Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” a monk said.

I am not sure about the appropriate image of the monk’s life in other countries, but some photos in this story are controversial for Thai people. However, I would like to say that I started and ended this story with respect for the subjects. As I mentioned earlier, I do believe that Buddhism is the journey of each person’s insight, and it has never been easy.


Ekkarat Punyatara, was born and raised in Bangkok, Thailand. He studied Photography and Cinematography at Bangkok Technical Campus. After working for two years, including an internship and freelance work at National Geographic (Thai edition), he realized his eyes had become immune to his surroundings, and it was getting difficult to see something new. With a deep interest in Asian culture, especially Thai culture, he decided to move to New York, USA to look for a fresh perspective, and to take his photography to the next level. At present he is waiting for the right time to go back and explore Asia.

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Ekkarat Punyatara

25 thoughts on “ekkarat punyatara – the monk”

  1. GREAT story telling…
    thanks for sharing…
    your work has me very inspired….
    it makes me want to work harder…
    thank YOU for that….

  2. Ekkarat

    Lovely series.

    The last image, #29, perfectly sums up the essay. This is a wonderfully crafted image. The pallete is limited to shades of rust red beginning with the brick wall outside the building, the gentle splashes of light on the wall, and finally and most powerfully on the robe of the monk. There, where the red is most powerful, it is immediately adjacent the deepest blue on the wall, a stunning effect. The composition is formal and calm. The verticals are parallel. I love the fact that the diagonal of the bottom of the window sill is almost at the same angle as the forms created on the wall by the sun through the window. In a purely abstract sense this is a wonderful image.

    The monk turns away from the window, the external, and looks inward.

    I want to write more but I’m late for work.

    This is one of the most beautiful images I’ve ever seen on Burn. I just want to keep looking at it.


  3. Yes! You sure have shown us an intimate view of how these monks live. I can tell you’ve invested a lot of time in this essay and you’ve spent many hours with these priests… you appear to be invisible as a photographer they seem totally at ease in your company. I’m not a religious person in any way at all… I’ve never read a single page from the bible! But I must admit i’ve sometimes felt an attraction or interest in Budhist and other oriental ways of thinking and this essay has re-kindled that curiosity.

  4. EKKARAT – congratulations!!
    Good to see you up here on BURN!
    I really enjoyed your essay when I first saw it during the final slideshow at the loft a few months ago, and I really do enjoy this new edit! Great feel, great light!

  5. “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile,
    but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
    –Thich Nhat Hanh

    As I’ve tried to write here before and often tell my students and friends (and always remind myself): your exhalation is my inhalation and my exhalation feeds your inhalation…we are bound by the same exchange of breath, even though we rarely recognize that…

    what i love so much about this essay is not only the subject but the quiet love and rich smile contain in many of these images and moments…those who do not practice, or meditate or no little of the practice, may not understand the deep importance of both breath and the smile….it is not about ‘rejection’ but about acceptance and awareness of our suffering, the suffering of others and it’s deep connectedness…clingings and aversions….defilements has always seemed to me much too clerical and like the sourface of clergy ;))

    i practice (though fail)…and my family lives adjacent to a house of Tibetan monks and tibetan lay families and i remember how started i was during the elder monks morning walks when he wouldn’t make eye contact, not until i done a retreat and understood what a walking meditation was that i understood him, a bit…

    what is so wonderful here is both the gorgeous simplicity and the deep, felt love of the living that is contained in all these pictures….monks not as chimera, but as breathing, thinking, feeling human beings…not as angels, not as special creatures but as human beings….and so many of these moments are filled with such joy and laughter (i love the first photograph so much and the joy from the upper window) and the monk with the camera…and the monk drinking starbucks (much to my chagrin, our former sanga leader also drank starbucks ;)) )…and the role of light in all these images….and it is difficult to explain the power and calm of meditation to those who do not meditate, but the final image certainly captures that….turning away from the window, he is still bathed by the light…to absorb with the body life and light without having to be seduced by it…a powerful, metaphor for the practice itself….

    and all this beautiful light and shadow…

    and all that grace…

    monks not as religion, but people in their devotion to the living…and that is the great power of the story here….just like anyone else…

    the breathing of the light and the awareness of that smile…

    you gave me a deep smile after a week of physical pain and worry


  6. Ah Bob

    I was hoping you would comment here. thankyou once again for your insight and wonderful way with words.

    I hope your eye is improving.

    a big smile going out to you tonight:)))

  7. I think many of the “street” shots are shot with no sense of (shutter) timing in them, as if you were indifferent to the world around them, or see it as a mere city prop next to their going about. #24 does that actually and therefore brings a contrast that does inform us on the difference between them and that/those around them (and yet, its narrative is that the monk is leaving the scene/frame, nice visual metaphor and my favorite image here ) yet accentuates their alienation (and the NY people’s, reversely) from the life. In a few pictures we could imagine their presence has been copied and pasted onto the frame.

    Of course, life as a buddhist does ask for detachment, but not quite alienation, or estrangement. One does live and participate in the life of the world, without partaking. So, almost detrimental to your photography, to Photography, you do show us what a different world and culture they have landed (been copied and pasted) upon, and it even seems that the only way they could bring some participation in it is by way of the camera (aren’t we all, here at BURN!?), a technological object.

    Voluntary or not, I am fine with this stance, that you forsake the making of momentous images, to convey your sense of being a monk as something otherly, but also your deep respect for them and the creed you share with them as a thai. It is an essay done with a gentle approach (David’s choice of featuring it after Laura’s is not by chance, of course, both showing a love for one’s unforgotten culture), very much shot and presented in the present tense, you merely suggest, see no reason to make a point, or strive for ultimate expressiveness, yet you do unmistakably offer us a wonderful narrative of a buddhist/thai monk’s life outside of his own culture.

    PS: The sight of buddhist monks with cameras (usually nice ones, not just compact tinies) around Thailand is quite common, actually. Some will say a monk should only have a robe, a bowl and a walking stick, but with a little knowledge of thai life, they will understand that purity and utmost rightenousness is not exactly something thais do struggle with strenuously. Life, therefore thai life, is too short for that, thai monks do simply take pictures because they can! ;-)

  8. Hi Ekkarat, congratulations for this fine work. For me, the photos somehow manage to be about the environment, often the unseen environment, in which the subjects live and move rather than the subjects themselves. And for me, this is one of the best essays in the sense of photographs telling the story with little or no need whatsoever for accompanying text. I wouldn’t mind a few captions. For example, one photo could have the “temple is a second home” caption or the “daily alms round” caption and that would stand for five or six photos. And yes, I’m aware that I don’t have to look at them, but I did, and since they are there it has to be assumed that the photographer wanted them there, that they are an integral part of the story. I’m just sayin that they’re not, or at least that they shouldn’t be.

    Great photo essay though. I like it very much.

  9. Very good, for the choice of theme as much as anything. Best storytelling I’ve seen in Burn for a while.

  10. Some fantastic photographs. I do think some editing down is in order and the sequencing tightened but I love your use of light and placement of subject in busy situations.

    Humanization of monks is important. Most I’ve met have great sense of humor and playfulness. Like most well rounded people I know they take their devotion (substitute career, art, healing, etc etc for others) seriously but not necessarily themselves or “life” in general (life life yes).

  11. Ekkarat: I’ve looked at this essay many times and am nourished with each viewing. You are obviously very connected to what you photograph and the imagery is wonderfully observed. Congratulations.

  12. Dear all,

    Finally I can logged in after I had a bit problem with WordPress. Late. I m so sorry about that. If a monk in this story is still in NY I might not take long time like this to fix, unfortunately he went to Thailand and will be back later :)

    I truly appreciate all of you for your kindly comments. Besides photograph’s comment there is always something interesting in western opinion toward eastern ways. Actually, to learn how western people see eastern is one of my reasons of coming to NY too. I also appreciate that.

    ekkarat punyatara

  13. Bob,

    Thank you for sharing your experience on Buddhism way. Frankly speaking, Meditation is always one of the most difficult things for me. I usually fall asleep whenever I do that, a meditation posture. But as we have known, there are many ways to meditate, just I have never done any other ways before. Actually, one day while I was photographing this story, I talked with a monk about Meditation. He told me about a young stubborn Buddhist novice. Because of his disobedience and naughtiness, no monk can teach him meditation. Later on, after a Master monk knows that a young Buddhist novice really like rambutan. He use rambutan to negotiate with his student to do meditation. His rule is just that this stubborn novice has to imagine a rambutan while doing meditation and chant “ngoe eaoy” repeatedly (ngoe means rembutant in english). After the novice follows his Master until his mind becomes intimate with peace and serenity. Then finally he gets into meditation.

    As for me the Buddhist novice story is same as the idea “stay simple”; don’t get attached to anything and that is one of the good thing of Buddhism.

    so, anything you like, Bob? :)

    ekkarat punyatara

  14. Ekkarat,

    really love the color and mood of first photo.

    It reminds me of the painting of Edward Hopper… not same but …

    Thank You.

    Kyunghee Lee

  15. “sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy”

    Yes. True wisdom consists in smiling in the absence of joy, which is exactly why a Boddhitsava’s vow consists in:

    “Joyful participation in the sorrows of the world”.

    PS: in the sorrows, not with the Soros, of the world, ok? :-))))

  16. Congratulations Ekkarat. I love the peace, the compassion and the honesty of these photos. Thank you for bringing some much needed serenity to my day.

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