Visual Literacy

 |  October 29, 2012

Documentary Arts Asia (DAA), based in Chiang Mai, is an organisation that strives to “advance visual literacy and support documentary artists in Asia”, by offering photo based galleries, grants for Asian short film makers and workshops for anyone interested in photography and documentaries in Asia.

Ryan Libre, who founded DAA in 2008, told me, “images are worth more than words, and people are taught to read words, but never to read an image. We want to teach people in Asia to read images. We have been amazingly popular so far.”

The Headquarters in Chiang Mai offer a number of facilities for the public to take advantage of. Christopher Smith, DAA’s managing director told me, “Every Monday we have an Asian cinema night and every Thursday from 7 p.m. we show documentaries to the public. There’s no fee, we just ask for a donation and they choose how much. We also have workshops which are mainly at the weekends which include photography and video at both beginner and intermediate levels, NGO photography, Adobe Lightroom and social media. Many people come just for enjoyment, it’s not just professional.”

The organisation aims to spread the art of documentation and photography across Thailand and the rest of Asia, with another small centre already set up in Burma. Libre, originally from California, says, “I came to Thailand 12 years ago and found a lack of resources and photo specific galleries. I wanted to bring photography and film resources to Thailand and Asia. Chiang Mai is a good crossroads; it’s not too big so we can still reach people, and people can come to events. We had an opening here and one in Bangkok, where only 35 people turned up whereas 300 people turned up to the one in Chiang Mai.”

The organisation also has strong bonds with Chiang Mai University, “we want to reach out more to the University where we have been successful so far. We have special partnerships and run workshops there. Earlier this year 17 of the best photojournalists in the world came to teach at our workshops, which ended in

20 scholarships for CMU students.”

The gallery, which is a two floor open layout, currently features an exhibition by Ansel Adams called “Born Free and Equal”, which documents in black and white the life of Japanese Americans who were forced to move to relocation camps after Pearl Harbour in America, and is open to anyone who wishes to take a look. The work is usually that of Asian photographers who, I was told, are generally able to translate their personal life into their work, which give the photos a deeper meaning, making it quite unlike any other gallery in Chiang Mai.

There is also a membership scheme, “members get discounts on workshops and access to books, documentary films and videos. We also get interns from the UK, South Africa, China and Canada.”

The DAA is currently preparing for the Chiang Mai Documentary Arts Festival which takes place in February. “There will be around twenty exhibitions which will be showing films every night that people can get involved with. People from the public can also get involved with producing the actual festival itself too if they wish,” Libre explained.

Workshops cost 1,000 baht per day, or 500 baht for half a day and memberships cost 600 baht per year or alternatively you can volunteer with DAA for three days a year and get a membership for free.

Visit for 3 week advance listings of upcoming workshops and theatre screenings.

088 1387 470