Top: Panuwat Sakulthaithianchai, 25, poses for “pre-ordination” photos taken by his photographer brother, Naruecha Sakulthaithianchai. Photo: Naruecha Sakulthaithianchai.
CHANTHABURI — Gazing into the distance beneath a freshly shaven head, a young man in dark glasses strikes a pose worthy of GQ magazine as his gauzy gown flaps dramatically behind him. Elsewhere, dressed in the same robe and snazzy sneakers, he ponders instant noodles in a 7-Eleven, pauses in front of a street mural and strikes a gangsta pose before a vintage Volkswagen beetle.
The model featured in the photo spread was monk-to-be Panuwat Sakulthaithianchai, and his photographer brother said Tuesday he was just looking to commemorate a milestone in his life, the same way people pose for elaborate photo shoots before their graduations and weddings.
“I wanted to take these photos of my brother because you don’t get ordained many times in your life,” 29-year-old Naruecha Sakulthaithianchai said.
Naruecha knows that’s unlikely to stem the tide of criticism the photos has spawned since they were posted onto Pantip.com on Thursday, but he’s taking it in stride, saying the pre-ordination shoot was totally within Buddhist tenets.
Given that dramatic, well-produced shoots are common for those about to marry or graduate, Naruecha and his 25-year-old brother thought doing the same to mark the “pre-ordination” as a rite of passage in the lives of most Thai Buddhist men’s lives wasn’t so crazy.
Although ordination photos are easy to find online, they don’t invite internet drama the way Panuwat’s images did. Instead of attempting a pious look, Panuwat strikes “cool” poses for over-the-top images that would approach parody were they not so sincere.
Unsurprisingly, not all Thai netizens were comfortable with the stylistic choices for an occasion in which men are supposed leave behind the vanities of secular life and embrace spiritual humility.
“A nak is a person who is about to be ordained. They should be at the temple chanting. This isn’t wrong, but it still shouldn’t be done,” user 710594 wrote in reply to the Pantip post. “Preserve good traditions. This isn’t a pre-wedding or cosplay photo shoot. You’re not restraining yourself.”
A few folks took the time to say: Right on, brother.
“The people complaining are like the sounds of birds and crows,” user Nilkoson Natdanal said. “Just focus on your ordination.”
Naruecha said the photos were taken two months before Panuwat was ordained. He said his brother could not be reached for comment because he is now a monk.
“We had planned this ahead. All he did was shave his head and wear white. Even naks don’t have to observe any precepts yet, and they’re not considered higher than laymen.”
He said it was the best way to remember this important time in his younger brother’s life.
“If you’ve ever been to an ordination, then you know that there isn’t really time to take pictures to commemorate the event. It’s just a couple of hours long, and you spend the whole time greeting guests,” Naruecha explained. “So I took the photos for my brother and family. I didn’t wanna miss this opportunity.”
A Buddhist himself, Naruecha said he expected some people to be uneasy with the images, but said his family found nothing wrong with them.
“We didn’t take the photos in the temple but while we walked around town. On his actual ordination day, it was very somber and normal,” Naruecha said.
Asked if he would accept paid work shooting pre-ordination clients, he gave an emphatic yes.
“Of course, I’m happy to, if they and their parents are okay with it,” he said.