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Beauty and the beehive: The work of S.H. Lim, an unsung Thai snapper
A new retrospective of retro glamour photography highlights this self-taught Thai-Chinese photographer's career. Here's a selection of Lim classics paired with his illuminating recollections
Sly paparazzi snapshots and airbrushed spreads may fill Thai glamour magazines today, but back in the uncomplicated 1960s and 1970s the industry was a lot more innocent, free-spirited and fun.
At least, that’s the impression you get when admiring the iconic –- and often deliriously camp –- work of S.H. Lim, the subject of a mini-retrospective now on at Silom’s Kathmandu Photo Gallery until March 27.
Born in 1930, this Thai snapper of Chinese descent worked to become one of the era’s most prolific commercial photographers -- the glamour industry’s go-to guy for playfully choreographed shots of immaculately coiffed pinups. This in spite of the fact that he had no formal training.
From 1962 until his retirement in 1987 he photographed hundreds of them for the covers and centerfolds of Thai magazines like Sakul Thai, Bangkok Weekly, Ploenjit, Or Sor Tor and Seansu.
And we’re not just talking no-name hotties he’d plucked off the street.
S.H. Lim, or Vivat Pitayaviriyakul, as he’s known in Thai, worked with the vast majority of the era’s most dynamically sexy and hero-worshipped actresses, beauty queens and sex kittens -- “About 80 percent of them”, he estimates.
In spite in of this, S.H. Lim, now in his eighties, has had little acclaim here at home (though he did win medals at the New York Kodak Expo back in 1963).
Kathmandu owner Manit Sriwanichpoom -– one of Thailand’s best known and most caustic art photographers –- hopes to change this with the exhibition, which features mostly black and white prints from Lim’s days as a contributor for Bangkok Weekly.
“Besides his excellent technique he had a gift for dealing with the stars," says Manit. "His work also reflects the spirit of the age, especially the role of woman then. His models seem joyful, as if celebrating their freedom and modernity,” he says.
Below we pair S.H. Lim’s recollections of his career with a selection lifted from the kitsch timewarp that is his backcatalogue.
To see these photos and more of S.H. Lim's work, visit the Kathmandu Photo Gallery, 87 Soi Pan, Silom Rd. The exhibition is on until March 27. Tel: +66 (0)2 234 6700. Open Tuesday to Sunday, 11 a.m.-7 p.m. www.kathmandu-bkk.com. BTS: Chong Nonsi