99 SPIRIT HOUSES is neither encyclopedic nor random. It is serendipitous. Every day, no matter where I am, I walk about with my camera bag over my shoulder and stop for a session when a spirit house catches my eye. I often return to the same site over and over again, until I get it right. My very first site I never did get right. The photographs were taken — or made — in Ayutthaya, Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Khon Kaen, Lamphun, Loei, and Pattaya because I’ve visited those places, and not the 70 remaining provinces of Thailand. Here are the rules I use for a session:
1. No dogs. I don’t want to be bitten and I hate to be barked at. This rules out most gated (hi-so) residences with guard dogs, but not most other sites, since street dogs tend not to bark, at least until after nightfall, when they become territorial (but see photo #9 Guard Dogs).
2. No guards. I don’t want to interact with authorities other than the spirits. This rules out malls, many office buildings, many hotels, most apartment buildings, and all modern apartment buildings. In practice, this is not a hard-and-fast rule, at least with friendly guards in open spaces (#56 Christmas, #86 Happy New Year).
3. No commercial spaces other than shops. Spirit houses in gas stations or chain stores are most often cared for by the Thai equivalent of lawn care companies, who refresh the figurines and the offerings, and dust the house, so I think the presence of the spirits is likely to be attenuated (but see #78 Balance or #98 Maya Lifestyle Shopping Center). This rules out modern spirit house designs, since most of these are placed near commercial buildings.
4. No smiling Thais, elephants, etc. To me, that subject matter is disrespectful, bordering on exploitative; see Appendix Two.
5. Start with one-point perspective. The spirit house is square, and the spirit icon, if present, looks out the front door. A vantage point directly in front of the door will be most respectful to the spirit (but see #14 Pink).
6. Enable blur. Trees with blowing leaves, light trails from moving vehicles, offering tables with blowing plastic bags, garlands caught in the evening breeze, all provide the sense that the unseen forces are present.
7. Always wai the spirit house before leaving. This gives curious Thai onlookers great satisfaction, and assuages the spirits.
Blur means I keep the camera shutter open a long time, at least by the standards of normal street photography. That makes my photography “slow.” See again Appendix Two.