‘Riders Of Phanom’ – Luke Moran-Morris

 Luke Moran-Morris - Riders Of Phanom - © Luke Moran-Morris

Luke Moran-Morris is an up and coming freelance photographer & film maker from London who currently resides in Thailand where he has been travelling through India,Thailand and soon to be Australia for several months. Throughout his journey’s he has documenting a variety of people and cultures. He has now made one of his projects into a book entitled “Riders of Phanom” which displays how the people of Phanom Sarakham use motorbikes. We were able to catch up with Morris to find out more about his ventures and his current work:

Film’s not Dead: Could you please start off by telling us a bit more about yourself?

Luke Moran-Morris: Well I’m an artist in my mid 20’s, working in Photography, Filmmaking and Graphic Design. I like to tell visual stories about people I meet and environments that I find myself in. I enjoy making work that is accessible and can be understood by all types of people. Subjects that interest me are social interactions, communities, cultural differences & idiosyncrasies, sentimentality and fun.

I have been travelling around the world with my girlfriend for the last 7 months, working freelance along the way. We have already visited India and Nepal, and are currently living in Thailand. Our next stop is Melbourne Australia at the end of October.

Film’s not Dead: Where did your interest for photography begin and why in particular do you choose to practice it using film?

Luke Moran-Morris: My true interest in photography began at 16 when my dad, who has a keen interest in photography himself and was always taking candid family photos on various film cameras, gave me his old Nikon FM2. Before this I had begun to use photography in my artwork, photographing things, manipulating them, painting, drawing and tracing from them. But having this camera was what really began the snowball of interest and obsession that has led me to becoming a photographer. I began by photographing my friends whilst out on skateboarding adventures around London, even at this early stage it was all about the people for me. A couple of months later I had decided to drop my Physics A Level and pick up Photography AS. I was lucky that my college had a good photography course with an inspirational teacher and a great darkroom. Throughout this year I experimented with different styles of photography and concepts. I also learnt how to develop, process and print my own photos. The darkroom was a beautiful calm cave of a place where things just happened in their own time, and you couldn’t rush. It was very calming at that crazy teenage period of my life!

From this time on, all my artistic work has had a strong photographic element. I have tried out many different cameras and uses for photography but often find myself coming back to my FM2, we are good mates!

Film’s not Dead: You’ve worked for a variety of publications. If you could give one piece of advice to a photographer aspiring to get into this field what advice would you give them?

Luke Moran-Morris: Well I’m sure people have heard this before but you need to be very persistent and really take your chances when they are presented to you. My first gig at a publication was taking portraits of people for the magazine ‘The Clerkenwell Post’ and I got it through a friend of mine from my degree course. He was on an internship with the designers of the mag and they visited our degree show on the lookout for a graduate who could take these portraits of various local heroes in the Clerkenwell area. My friend was kind enough to suggest me and they called me in for an interview. I did a little research on what the mag was about, then went off and printed out all the best portraits I could find in my archive of images and took them to the interview. They hired me for freelance commissions after that.

I would say that if you want to work for a publication you need to really research and find out the kind of work/contributions they are looking for, then tailor what you show them so its relevant. It also helps a massive amount if you know someone within the publication, for instance, before I began photographing for ‘Jocks & Nerds’ (a mens style, history & culture mag) I was actually working as the design assistant there. Once I got to know the editor I came out and told him that I was also a photographer and that I would love to contribute. This led to him giving me the job of photographing clothes and accessories for the news section, I really gave those shoots my all to tried and impress and since then the scale of my contributions have grown.

Film’s not Dead: You’ve been living in Thailand for some time documenting the culture and people there. How would you say the people react to you photographing them compared to in England and are there any specific photographs you took that you feel a special connection with?

Luke Moran-Morris: Yes thats right, I’ve been out here in Thailand for 5 months now. One of the great things about Thai people is there friendliness & politeness. I have found them much easier to photograph than English people. They love it, they are always photographing themselves and each other, so its just an extension of that for them I guess. I love the Thai smile, it just makes me happy wandering around with a big beaming grin on my face and getting that in return from the people I photograph. Generally I would say that people in England are more wary of people taking their photograph, and especially of people photographing children. Whereas in Thailand is all “mai pen ray” which translates as “no worries”. I have also perfected the Thai sentence of “kor taey roop noi” which means “can i take your photo please”, it helps a lot to know that and no one has said no yet!

In terms of photos I’ve taken here that I feel a special connection with, there are definitely a few standouts from ‘Riders Of Phanom’. The image of a little girl in an orange t-shirt on a yellow and red bike, looking coyly straight at me has something special to it. it was taken right outside my front door, she is one of the neighbourhood kids who always muck about on their bikes on the street, they often come over to our house in the hope of us playing with them! Just like most Thai’s this girl is being all coy but you know she loves the camera really! ha ha.

 Another favourite would be a shot of what I assume is a grandfather and his two grandsons in the sidecar of his motorbike which was taken in the busy market place of Phanom Sarakham. I love the expressions and the warmth of the image and I think it captures and authentic slice of thai family life. Also, damn that old guy looks seriously cool, don’t you think? 

 Luke Moran-Morris - Riders Of Phanom - © Luke Moran-Morris

Film’s not Dead: You’ve been working on a project entitled “Riders Of Phanom”. What are some of the challenges you have had to over come during this journey and why did you decide to make this particular work into a book?

Luke Moran-Morris:

Well first off, I had to decide exactly what the project was about. This process took about a month of going out and shooting, discovering things I wanted to include and things I thought weren’t necessary. I learnt that I wanted to capture a mix of portraits and candid ‘on the go’ shots to achieve these two types of images I used two different cameras. For the portraits and more stationary shots I used my Nikon FM2, which is fully manual and just takes beautiful shots and for the ‘on the go’ shots I used my olympus mju, which is a compact film camera with a fixed 35mm lens and an autofocus. This allowed me to literally cycle about on my bike and whip it out when I saw something interesting. This technique is a little hit and miss and involved a fair bit of luck but it has given me some of the best images in the project.

For me making a project into a book is kind of how I confirm with myself that it is really going to happen and that it will become something. When I commit to making a book out of an idea it focuses me and gives me the drive to complete it and I often give myself a deadline to help this happen. Making my projects into books also allows me to bring out the narrative elements and work with juxtaposing images and coming up with an interesting layout. My background in graphic design helps me with this a great deal and I enjoy it as part of the process of the project. I also often like my photos to be accompanied by text or sounds. I’m not one of these purists that thinks that a photo should always speak for itself, I like to support my photos with text to help the viewer understand the story. I hate it when I go to a gallery and find myself staring at an image and asking myself the question, “what is this all about?” I feel that by explaining the work you can make it much more accessible to your audience, and through this engage with them more. So for this reason I asked one of the teachers working with my girlfriend in Thailand, Leah Tannehill, a writer from San Francisco, to collaborate on the project by writing up snippets of text to complement the images.

 Living in a country where you only speak a very small amount of the language and English is rarely spoken, there is always going to be a language barrier. I was lucky enough to meet a friend, Erawat Lorrattanachon, (who is featured in the book himself, in a red t-shirt sitting on his bike on the blue basketball court of the local park, taken the night I him) who’s speaks perfect English and was able to translate the text written by Leah into Thai. I think its important to engage with your subject matter and to build a kind of rapport with you subjects so its not just you taking from. I like to show the photos I take to the people I photograph so they can enjoy them and understand why I find it interesting. This is something I have learnt from my personal photographic hero Anders Peterson.

 Luke Moran-Morris - Riders Of Phanom - © Luke Moran-Morris

Film’s not Dead: Do you have any plans or further projects lined up for the future that we need to look out for?

Luke Moran-Morris: Well I have recently been working on a very different project, also based around the town of Phanom Sarakham. I discovered from my friend Erawat’s father that in the 1960’s there was a US army camp just outside of the town, and for 5 years there were around 1000 US soldiers stationed there. The ‘faring’ (the thai word for ‘foreigner’ or ‘westerner’) population of Phanom Sarakham nowadays is a very modest 10 people (9 english teachers and myself) and walking around the streets you feel a bit like a celebrity when everyone you pass waves and says hello! I found it interesting that 50 years ago there were so many westerners here. So I did some research and discovered that in the early 1960’s when America was preparing to enter the war in Vietnam, the US government signed an agreement with the Thai government which made them allies, in exchange for allowing the US army to station troops in Thailand and create military bases, the US government agreed to carry out various civil action projects, wherein the soldiers built infrastructure to improve transportation and the economy in Thailand. One of these projects was to build a highway from the city of Chachoengsao, just east of Bangkok, through perviously remote farmland to Korat near the Cambodian border. 

I have begun to interview some of the elder townspeople of Phanom about their experiences and perceptions of the soldiers and the camp. As well as this I have managed to get in contact with some ex US soldiers who were stationed at the camp. 

The project is still taking shape, but it looks like it will incorporate archive images from the 1960’s (mostly taken by the soldiers) along with text and interviews carried out by me, of the soldiers and townspeople nowadays, supported by photographic portraits. 

Film’s not Dead: Photography has seen such a dramatic change over the last 10 years or so. What are your own thoughts on the current statue of photography?

Luke Moran-Morris: I think photography is in a great way right now, I’m not a fan of anything being elitist and I feel that now with the introduction of high quality smartphone cameras almost everyone can have the tools to create decent images. It’s really opened up photography to a lot of people who would have never considered themselves photographers before. Of course this also means that its harder than ever to actually make a living out of doing it!

The internet has changed and is continuing to change the way we view photographs and the way we access them. Just like with music, there is a tendency for people to skim over many different photographers as opposed to delving into one project deeply. I like photo books to music albums, you know, there is a narrative there, they are both more than the sum of their parts and deserve to be viewed as a whole.

Despite this, I do love the way that the internet has brought likeminded people together in so many fields. I mean, here I am in rural Thailand connected to a worldwide photography community through the internet! I get a lot of my feedback and critique about my work from friends and contemporaries via email.  

Film’s not Dead: Thank you for taking the time to for doing this interview with us. Is there anything else you would like to mention to the readers of Film’s not Dead?

Luke Moran-Morris:  I want to say thanks a million for interviewing me. It’s been a really enjoyable experience and answering these questions has allowed me to give a little more thought to how and why I do some of the things I do in my photography than I perhaps normally would. A little reflection, you know. Keep up the good work and remember that film photography is most certainly not dead. 🙂

Luke Moran-Morris

Updated:July 29, 2019