Soft Focused Lanna
Ever since early man first invited his neighbour round to check out his cave etchings he has argued about the definition of beauty in art. Wandering through Chiang Mai’s Night Bazaar, I found it.
I was transfixed. I stood open-mouthed and wide-eyed gazing at a shop front covered with photographs of families, lovers and individuals all with flawless faces dressed in fabulous embroidered dresses and the shiniest, baggiest silk trousers. I decided there and then that I wanted to be one of the beautiful people.
Leela Lanna is a photographic studio on the second floor of the Night Bazaar where you can flip through a catalogue of pictures, pick out a suitable outfit and forty minutes later walk away knowing that the very next day you will possess a set of photos in which you are transformed into a prince or princess of old Siam.
I’ve never had my picture taken by a professional. The nearest I’ve been was recently when I needed some passport photos. I was surprised to find instead of a cubicle with a curtain, a swivelling stool and a slot for my money, I was in a studio, face to face with a real man with a real camera. The results were less than fabulous, and I wanted fabulous. I decided that investing eighty baht on a smart new haircut might be a good idea. Three minutes after explaining what style of cut I thought I might like I walked out of the hairdressers, teary eyed with what I can only assume was nostalgia for my mother’s early attempts on my scalp with a pair of gardening scissors. With only two minor flesh wounds and a fringe that suggested anything was possible, I was ready for my close up.
I delivered myself into the very capable hands of God, (as in Godzilla, apparently) a friendly man who was obviously used to directing and photographing wooden, inexperienced, slightly embarrassed models such as myself.
I picked out a rather fetching gold and black costume and got changed in the shop’s kitchen. I was then put into make-up where a layer of foundation was liberally applied to my face, a touch of eye shadow and Vaseline for my lips. I was then adorned with a turban (making my new haircut a bit pointless), rings and a necklace and the transformation into minor Lanna royalty was almost complete. All I needed was a sword. God said I could have two if I wanted.
I was then led to a corner of the shop, asked to sit on a low bench amongst lacquer ware and peacock feathers, and asked to adopt a series of heroic poses.
As the flashes popped and I was told to alternately smile and not smile for the camera I must admit to feeling a bit silly. Did I seem vain to the shop employees _ an Englishman dressing as a Thai prince? I asked God how many foreigners passed through the shop. He said lots and I tried to feel a little less foolish.
Having changed out of my silk trousers and reluctantly given back my rings and bangles, it was time to choose the photos that would be digitally touched up as a lasting testament to my vanity.
And the result? I think you’ll agree that I can now upload a rather dashing profile picture on Facebook.
Chiang Mai Night Bazaar (2nd Floor)
Prices start at 500 baht for 1 x 10 x 8 in;
6 x 6 x 4 in and a CD.