Mieczysław “Mitch” Alland

Alone in Bangkok

The title Alone in Bangkok echoes the English title of Hans Fallada’s German wartime novel, Alone in Berlin. As one reviewer wrote, “Fallada’s masterpiece has “its emphasis on the solitude in which moral choices are made.” For me, these photographs reflect the situation in Thailand. Bangkok has grown exponentially in recent decades, mainly through migration of people from the countryside. This massive inflow has created the current economic and political upheavals in a huge, chaotic, tropical city — one that has experienced rapid economic and social change under the impact of modernization. The village mentality of personal relations and the deference of the earlier traditional and static society are being transformed and eroded by the more anonymous life in a megacity: interaction of social classes becomes less fixed and more brittle. The position of individuals in the society can change, in directions that can be stressful and not easily identifiable or predictable.

All this is reflected in the faces of the people.




Mieczysław “Mitch” Alland spends his time as a nomad, moving annually between Thailand, France and the United States.


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Mitch Alland

20 thoughts on “Mitch Alland – Alone in Bangkok”

  1. I like everything about this. Maybe a little bit distant but that’s fine by me.

  2. HasselbladSteve

    I can appreciate the story Mitch is trying to tell, but I’m turned off by the two seemingly out of placed images of the naked girl/prostitute(?), and the closeup of another girl’s unbuttoned shirt. It seems westerners go to Thailand just to satisfy their Asian girl fetish. It feels as if Mitch’s mission was to document the Thai life on the streets, but then reveals his “other” intent for the travel, to have sex with an Asian girl. What is it with White guys and their fetish for Asian girls? Seems to be a very common theme for foreigners in Asia.

  3. I’ve been to Bangkok about 6 or 7 times since 1998 & it has changed so much just in the last 8 years. I absolutely feel the words & images here. It feels like the Thai’s have lost their culture, Bangkok has become a model of the West & the people have a sadness and distance that is terribly depressing which is mimicked in this essay, well done!

  4. Very nice essay Mitch, I really enjoyed the variety of images. I also noticed the slightly distant approach to your work, although I find it is necessary and helps your theme of loneliness and dissatisfaction. Mind you this feeling isn’t particular to Bangkok, as I’m seeing the same look of weariness and suspicion here in Spain. Many citizens here are over cautious and suffer a general attitude of skepticism towards modern society.
    BTW I think I recognize echoes of Petersen in the cable image, the image of the woman in bed and a bit of Sobol throughout the essay. Please do not take this as criticism because as I previously mentioned I think this work is very good.

  5. Truly excellent set of pictures, Mitch. Pretty grim, but with just enough counterweight to show that human joy can still be found in the midst. Comfort can be taken with a cat. I have long wanted to go to Thailand and see what kind of cats I might find to photograph there. I may never make it – but you have.


  6. Thanks, all, for the kind words. I also want to thank the talented editors of the BURN team — they helped me cut down the essay from 37 to 19 photographs. I could easily have cut it down to about 30 myself, but would not have ended up with as good a selection had I edited it down to 19 images, without their suggestions. Same for the sequencing. Here is an interesting article on this issue by Jörg Colberg that is worthwhile reading; it’s part 2 of the article: part 1 establishes the difference between a “story” and a “narrative:”


    I have always felt that if I manage to publish a book — and the “Alone in Bangkok” portfolio is part of a book project — I would want the help of a good editor.

    I don’t view a suggestion of influences as criticism; the general influence, though, is that of Moriyama Daido, whose work I first saw in 1989 while living in Japan — and Jacob Aue Sobol has been influenced by both Moriyama and Anders Petersen.

    Nothing wrong with criticism, but my view is that the pictures of the women that you object to are essential for this essay and were shot for this purpose, though I should say that I didn’t travel to Asia for this reason: I live in Thailand for a good part of each year. As I think that photographs should stand on their own, I am not inclined to explain why I think these images are essential. Instead, here is a quote from Paulo Nozolino, a Portuguese photographer, describing his workshop last month in Arles:

    This workshop is…for the unsure, the poets, the dreamers, all of those who feel they don’t fit in the system!…we will discuss content rather than form and how to make a coherent statement through sequencing for an exhibition, a portfolio or a book…Using photography as a scalpel. Perform visual surgery into a make-believe world. Getting to some kind of personal visual truth…Work is about making things as simple as possible, using one camera, one lens, one eye and time…Photographs consist of making an attempt to get to the core of things, people and places, by contemplation and acute action, by reduction not accumulation…work[ing] on…personal obsessions and concerns. Focusing on pain of [existence] and assuming the errors. Learn[ing] how to deal with fear and luck, cutting into the wound and trying to get down to the bone…So we can all learn a bit more and cheat death one more day.

  7. Somehow, I had earlier missed Hasselblad Steve’s comments. Somehow, when I saw the same pictures, my mind did not jump right to the idea that the nude subject might be a prostitute, but thought first she might be a girl friend. Mitch had made it clear he spends much time in Thailand and it made sense to me he would find a Thai girl friend. I think men tend to be attracted to the women of whatever place they are in.

    I was more curious about the pistols and what their role in Thai society is, but Mitch had chosen to make this ambiguous and to leave it to the imagination of the viewer, so I decided to accept it this way. Yet, being a person who lives and works in a society in which guns are a daily and essential part of life and being a close follower of the ongoing gun debate in America – the vast majority of which is a very different kind of society then the one I tend to inhabit and the use of guns also different – I remain curious.

    This seems to be spinning out of control. There is no reason to think that this portfolio, which is the heart of a book project, is autobiographical: my introductory text makes that quite clear, as it refers to the situation of the demographic and social changes of Bangkok — and provides the context. Now, as I’ve said, I believe that photographs should stand on their own. Also, I am not “documenting” but “depicting.” Furthermore, I am not telling a “story,” but creating a narrative based on the juxtaposition and the sequencing of the images, as discussed in Jörg Colberg’s article — in this case the narrative is organized the way a poem is, and, in my mind, the meaning emerges for the viewer the way it does in a poem — through the interplay of form and content.

    In all this, I realize that the women, not “girls” as HasselbladSteve calls them, can have different meanings for different viewers. But one meaning, given what I have written in the introductory text about the rapid social change and resultant social tensions, would be as a pointer to the role of sex, whether as an escape or release, or human contact, amidst the alienation of a mega-city, particularly in the light of the title “Alone in Bangkok.” But this is not “Mitch” being “alone” — the literary provenance of the title from the Fallada novel should also be a key for interpretation. However, this essay is not explicitly political — and I can’t discuss the political situation here because of the current suppression of free speech in the country.

    The models referred to are not prostitutes — and, following from what I’ve just said — I don’t need to say who they are: they could be friends, hired models, or friends of friends: it doesn’t really matter.

    As for the automatic hand guns, I understand some viewers may see them in the US context, where the issue of gun control is rampant. But we’re dealing here with another society, where they may point to a more general idea of violence. That’s about as much I can, or should, say — considering that I believe that photographs should stand in their own.

  9. Wildly out of control, Mitch. No, I jokes. I’m just glad to have all the comments back. During the time all comments on Burn registered, “0,” I felt like I had lost some friends – contentious though one or two of them may be. I would note that a work that is purely documentary can still echo a novel. Your fine essay here does have a very documentary feel about it. To a degree, all good photos can stand on their own without words and then all viewers can interpret it according to whatever, whether that interpretation has any basis in reality or not. Some will then see a woman photographed nude in Bangkok as a prostitute, others as a girlfriend, and maybe some who better know the situation as an image so wrought with the political control and angst of a place that its content dare not even be discussed.

  10. Mitch, I am fine with you taking the approach you do and I think you did so very well and accomplished what you set out to do maybe even better than you intended, I find this comment, “that I believe that photographs should stand in their own,” may be the perfect parameter for you to apply to your own work, but applied across the board to “photographs” to be restrictive, kind of like someone is trying to place handcuffs on me. I am a documentary photographer. This does not mean I do not produce art, but when I take a photograph I am intentionally documenting a moment, an event – perhaps one outside the context of many viewers personal experience. I want people to understand the context and of that moment and to be aware of certain facts the picture alone cannot convey, no matter how good it is. Many will read and still interpret it solely in whatever way fits their world view, but I want the information to be there.

  11. I really like this set of photographs. It’s interesting to read that they have been cut from the original 37 to 19 – with the help of the Burn editors. I would like to see your original selection, Mitch; and it would be a very useful exercise to see how the cut was made and the reasons behind each decision. Perhaps another post, Burn Team?

    Thank you for the photographs, Mitch.


  12. MIKE R
    Mike R

    Thanks. The BURN team may be able to respond more specifically, but I can give you some indications of the editing. First, of the 39 photographs, seven were in color. As far as I am concerned that worked, but to have, say, three color shots in a portfolio of 19, would make the color pictures look out of place.

    The other editing concepts were not to have repetitions or “side-tracks.” I wanted to include a picture of a lone woman, but that picture echoed the woman in the dark, at the right of the lead picture at the top of the essay. I also had two dark, dead animal shots: eight chickens hanging by their necks in a “chicken-rice” food stand and a basket of fish for sale. These two shots would have introduced another metaphor, which could have worked among 37 pictures or in a book but not in a 19-pix essay. Similarly, I had a strongly backlit landscape shot: some bushes on a dirt road — the idea being an “escape:” but that, again, was opening another side-track. The other cuts were in the same two categories.

  13. The whole story doesn’t work. The author’s premise is weak-willed and the result is messy and cliched. In a word, mediocre. I only see vague ideas of a tourist having a walk in Bangkok, and the only image that could be interesting is the woman (prostitute?) on the bed. The problem is, in this case, that nobody felt the need of her (maybe except the author), and the artificially-created blur adds nothing to nothing.

  14. Very refreshing set of new pictures from an emerging young talent. The problem with Internet is that after a while you get tired of seeing the very same pictures from the very same characters tirelessly pushing their mediocre work. So congrats to burn magazine for giving chance to new voices!

  15. Très beau travail, Mitch ! Et je suis très sensible aussi à cette idée d’approche poétique qui déborde du documentaire. Parabens :-) Vincent

    Obrigado, amigo. Dans ce sens d’approche poétique, ça vaut la peine d’étudier les premiers livres de Ralph Gibson, c’est-à-dire, “Days at Sea,” “Somnambulist,” et “Déjà vu” — ainsi que ceux de Paulo Nozolino.

    Thanks for the kind words.

    If the Big Kahuna says it, it’s gotta be true. Yeah, I’ve been disguising myself as tourist for years…

  17. IMANTS
    Just realized that I neglected to address your comment on possible “over processing.” Seems to me that this is a question of taste, in that what one photographer considers to be over processed can be another’s view on style: as in painting, what Renoir could have considered “crude” could be what Van Gogh saw as “truth” in the expression of a feeling.

    Indeed, the fear of over processing can be taken too far: I’m thinking of a well-known photograph by Moriyama in which there is an obvious “halo” from heavy burning in around a little boy’s head; looking at it, I suddenly realized that Moriyama is saying, “Hey, this isn’t the real thing; it’s a photograph.” Also, I remember a photograph of mine a few years ago on which a painter friend commented, “I see what you’re trying to do, but you haven’t committed to it: you haven’t pushed far enough in the direction that you want to go.

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