Ohm Phanphiroj is an artist, thinker and provocateur. He began his professional career as an artist and photographer in 1997, while working on a graduate degree in filmmaking with the Oscar award winning producer, Gary Moss. That same year, on the strength of his short art film, I Wish You Were in Hell, Phanphiroj was featured in the Dutch film journal Screen Talk as an up-and-coming filmmaker. He continued producing short films, but wanted greater artistic control over the final product, something difficult to achieve in filmmaking since it depends on the input of so many individuals. This desire for greater artistic control drew Phanphiroj to photography, which he found suited his talents more than filmmaking.
His work Identity Crisis, seeks to understand Thailand’s transsexuals from a different perspective. Transsexualism describes the condition in which an individual identifies with a gender inconsistent or not culturally associated with their assigned sex. Transsexualism is stigmatized in many parts of the world but Thailand has no difficulty integrating people who change gender roles.
According to a recent survey, there are between 10,000 and 100,000 transsexuals living in Thailand, including a number of singers, television and movie stars. Transsexuals are integrated into the urban and rural scene and are not singled out for abusive treatment in the course of their daily lives. “I want to approach this subject in a different and more complex way than in any of my past work. To date, there has been no single project focusing exclusively on these transsexuals. While artists who have documented this group have found transsexuals visually intriguing, these transsexuals have been viewed and photographed exclusively as examples of isolated exotica. Identity Crisis: Transsexual signifies something far different for me personally and as a photographer. The complexity of being transsexual in Thai society and the lives these individuals lead goes far beyond exotic imagery. My goal is to present transsexuals as psychologically complex human-beings and to allow them to reveal the reality of their self-identification,“ explains Phanphiroj.
Thailand’s first sex change surgery was performed in 1972, and the country now sees more of these procedures performed each year than any other country in the world. The number of transsexuals and their identity crisis is increasing, raising questions about culture, the media, and the general perception of transsexuals in Thailand, and around the world.
Ohm Phanphiroj goes on to explain: “At this stage of my artistic career, I feel the need to challenge myself by taking on a project that is not only meaningful to me personally, but also one that serves society more generally. The social, economic, and psychological realities of these transsexuals deserve a deeper investigation, one that will generate a multifaceted understanding of these individuals and their lives. Artistically this is a project that I feel deeply drawn to and want to treat in depth. I have faith in the project and think it is important that I show the reality of being transsexual in my own society. The project will serve as the first extensive documentation of these transsexuals and their data (age, background, occupation, when they started taking hormones, and when they completed their transformation). Considering that the number of transsexuals is increasing at an explosive rate, I feel this topic is overdue for serious artistic treatment and its widespread dissemination to a broader public.”
These images engage viewers and force them to examine the choices transsexuals have made about their lifestyle and the acceptance of that lifestyle by others. The documentary wants us to examine the choices we make about who and what we are, how we present ourselves to the world and the right of everyone to seek personal fulfillment as they see fit.