A Bold New Gallery in Bangkok
House of Lucie, an ambitious gallery in Bangkok, builds a home for world-class photographers. By RON GLUCKMAN. Photographed by SUPACHAT VETCHAMALEENONT.
Published on Feb 21, 2017
CHAMPAGNE FLOWED as photography fans packed one of the most anticipated openings of the Bangkok art scene. Like many of the partygoers, I was hovering around Afghan Girl, a photo made famous as the cover of National Geographic in June 1985 and one of the most enduring images of all time.
Afghan Girl on display at House of Lucie.
This caliber of show was a rarity in Bangkok, but may soon be the norm with publisher and photophile Hossein Farmani's opening of House of Lucie, in Ekkamai. Born in Iran, Farmani migrated to the United States for university, where he studied photography and eventually combined his love of photos and publishing by launching the magazines VUE and FotoFolio.
Farmani relocated to Bangkok in 2012, married a Thai lawyer and opened Rooftop Gallery, which was a huge departure from his fine-art photography Farmani Gallery in New York and Los Angeles. The space hosted radical shows that blended music, fashion and photos atop a run-down shophouse in Thonglor. Though Rooftop garnered a lot of buzz (even unadvertised shows drew crowds that regularly snaked down the stairs), the place closed in 2015 when the lease ended and the building was sold. Farmani decided for his next Bangkok venture he'd return to his lifelong passion: pure photography.
Farmani (left) and McCurry at the gallery opening. Courtesy of House of Lucie.
Spread across four renovated shophouses, the stark white gallery offers clean lines and tidy presentations, in which Farmani still continues to push the artistic envelope. When I attended the opening in November 2016, the stunning space was showing "A Lifetime of Work," a comprehensive career retrospective of photographer Steve McCurry, renowned for arresting portraits, like Afghan Girl. The exhibit abounded with photographs from Tibet, Burma, Sri Lanka and India. "I love working in Asia," said McCurry, 66, who first visited in 1978 and was smitten. "I've been back pretty much every year since then. I never tire of it."
This is among the largest shows ever mounted by McCurry, featuring more than 180 photographs, not only his evocative portraits from around Asia, but also work dating back to his days starting out with newspapers and even the rare celebrity shot of Robert de Niro.
A few of the arresting portraits displayed in "A Lifetime of Work."
It was particularly moving to see so many images up close, the huge, haunting eyes of his subjects locking upon onlookers. On exhibit at House of Lucie through March 14, 2017, the McCurry show will next travel to Chiang Mai, and possibly Cambodia and other parts of Asia.
Don't visit House of Lucie with the hope of coming home with a McCurry original: nothing is for sale. It isn't a commercial venture, but more of a non-profit center for the arts. "This is really a pure gallery, devoted to photography and creativity," Farmani said of the three-level space. "I want to show the best photographers in the world, from Thailand and around Asia." Besides the main area that can be configured to serve a variety of shows at the same time, there are meeting rooms upstairs and a roof that will be used for open-air exhibitions and projections, like at Rooftop Gallery. There is also space for printing and workshops. "My goal is to really create a photography center here in Bangkok," Farmani said. "This is a place where local photographers can work, study and congregate." The entire project is a prototype for a group of non-profit galleries and photography centers that Farmani is working to open around the region, and he's eyeing Manila and Chengdu as the next prime candidates.
Inside House of Lucie.
House of Lucie will exhibit other international superstars of photography, including winners of the Lucie Awards. Farmani intends to tap talent in a range of categories from classic reportage to portraiture, commercial work and fine arts. The next powerhouse show will feature 140 Lucie honorees, including Bruce Davidson, Sarah Moon and Sebastião Salgado. Gallery-goers should expect a few treats from Farmani's vast personal collection as well, which is among the world's largest, with more than 30,000 prints.
But Farmani's photo reserve isn't the only thing that House of Lucie is airing out. The inaugural exhibit arrives on the back of a recent controversy with the revelation that some of McCurry's images had been graphically altered. McCurry has countered that his role had changed over the years from strict reportage to "visual storytelling," meaning that touching up the photos was fair game. Farmani, a longtime friend of McCurry's, embraced the controversy. "The whole point of photography, and art, is to provoke discussion," he said. "I want people to see this exhibit and have a conversation."
Camels, Gulf War, Kuwait, by McCurry. Courtesy of House of Lucie.
House of Lucie
1 Ekkamai Soi 8, Sukhumvit 63, Bangkok; luciefoundation.org/house-of-lucie-bangkok; admission is free.
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