BiB005: Photo Journalist Nick Nostitz About His Life and Work in Thailand

In today’s episode, I have someone on the show who frequently made headlines over the last few years in Thailand. Actually, he literally made the headlines. It’s Nikolaus Freiherr von Nostitz, better known as Nick Nostitz, a photojournalist who has made a name for himself taking pictures of what’s going on in Bangkok’s streets. He’s been to the back alleys of the red light district and on the main roads of political protests. Today he’s here, talking about his life and work in Thailand, as well as the challenges and struggles he encountered not only here but also while trying to return to his native home, Germany.

‘The subject of politics is too important to make art out of it’ – Nick Nostitz

Nick actually started his photographer career in Bangkok while documenting the seedier aspects of life – the red light district and its characters – which he published in a few years back: Patpong: Bangkok’s Twilight Zone. He stuck with the grittier theme of the city by then traveling alongside the volunteer ambulances that prowl Bangkok’s streets. Some of them have a very dodgy reputation due to fights – sometimes even shootings – that are reported about in the media. These are said to be caused over the competition for commissions they are said to receive from hospitals for dropping of new patients.

What really earned Nick Nostitz broader fame was his coverage of the Bangkok street protests. Going where many other journalists considered it too dangerous, Nick captured the raw essence of a great many protests, often at significant threat to his own life. It wasn’t however a stray bullet that scared him, but his own image in the media: Yellow shirt protestors and leading protest figures had marked him out as a red shirt supporter and were targeting him for repercussions.

Fearing for his life and narrowly evading a kidnapping attempt, Nick has since withdrawn from a lot of reporting activities – especially in the south of Thailand. This has left him in a difficult professional and financial situation that ultimately lead to his impending return to Germany. Now struggling with the difficulties of relocating not only a life, but an entirely family that has grown up in Thailand to his new choice home of Germany he reflects on what brought him to this point.

In this interview Nick not only reflects on his work and the consequences it had on his own life and that of his relatives. As an expatriate dad he talks his perception of the Thai schooling system, the changing food landscape of Thailand’s capital and how to handle local and foreign bureaucratic challenges.

It’s a subtle insight behind the media headlines, behind the job description of a journalist and the behind numbers that make it into official reporting. It’s the daily life and reality of someone who has grown close with the Kingdom of Thailand, has learned to appreciate the obstacles he encountered and sometimes suffered and is trying to find his way in a changing political and economical landscape somewhere east of Munich and west of Bangkok.

Show Notes

  1. Photographing Bangkok’s underworld (1:15)
  2. Inspiration for photography (3:55)
  3. Volunteer ambulances in Bangkok (4:30)
  4. Journalism in politics (6:40)
  5. Getting beaten up on live TV (15:00)
  6. Sending a kid to school in Thailand (18:30)
  7. Returning to Germany (24:55)
  8. Adrenaline and work philosophy of a photographer (30:40)
  9. Supermarkets, street food, and eating out in Bangkok (33:55)
  10. Bureaucracy and the German embassy (36:00)
  11. Returning home: The struggle (38:30)

Websites and People Mentioned:

  • Henri Cartier-Bresson, a French humanist photographer who inspired Nick’s work.
  • Nan Goldin, who currently has an exhibition at MoMA is another artist Nick Nostitz admires greatly.
  • Dan Rivers, who now works as correspondent for ITV. During street protests in Bangkok he ended up becoming part of the story, ultimately resulting in him having to leave the country.
  • Jonathan Head, BBC SE Asia Correspondent, Bangkok. Not only held in high regard by Nick himself, but by many fellow correspondents in Thailand’s capital.
  • Patpong: Bangkok’s Twilight Zone, Nick’s first book that showcases the slowly disappearing red light district and underworld of the late nighties in Bangkok.
  • Poh Teck Tung Foundation, the volunteer ambulance foundation that Nick photographed. There are a number of different ‘foundations’ serving different parts of Bangkok and this is one of the most well-known.

Want More?

Check out the next episode of Brewed in Bangkok: BiB006: Flying Elbows – The Gritty Details of Muay Thai Careers. In case your mouth is watering after hearing about Nick’s wife cooking, you can also give my personal shopping list a try – maybe not quite as delicious, but in terms of convenient sourcing of macro nutrients it definitely lives up to expectations (you can see why my food writing hasn’t really taken off…). If you yourself are struggling with similar bureaucratic challenges as Nick – be it adoptions, relocations or visas – you can also have a look at my guide to lawyers in Thailand which might come in helpful for some of those situations.

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