The eye of the architect

@Roberto Arribas

This is the story of a photographer who is passionate about architecture.

He walked down a street in Vienna with camera in hand. Sitting in the window frame, a man with a leather cap and a colorful scarf looked out at the universe. Before the moment could be lost, Kanapat Chalermpanth snapped a shot with his Fujifilm X-T1, an extension of his eyes, without looking through the viewfinder. This young, Thai, street photography enthusiast, had captured a magical moment that he would add to his collection of about fifty thousand photos when he got home. “That is my best photograph to date,” says Kanapat, showing me the snapshot on his phone as if it were an extremely valuable treasure.

This is the story of a photographer who is passionate about architecture; or the story of an architect who loves photography. Architect or photographer? Kanapat Chalermpanth can’t nail down which of his two passions he feels more strongly about: his love for capturing the soul of any city in the world with the camera that has become an extension of his body, or his inclination towards architecture which started at a very young age, a field some of his family members work in.

Kanapat was born in Bangkok, the capital of Thailand, a colorful city full of contrasts and life in its streets; a city in which more than eight and a half million people move between modern skyscrapers and fascinating palaces and Buddhist temples. Kanapat grew up in a unique family atmosphere, where he was instilled with a love for culture, art, and design. Son and grandson of architects, he found an inspiring influence in his family, and the impetus necessary to become an important architect or great artist one day.

If we come back to reality, we see that Kanapat didn’t know what he wanted to study at first. “I was young, I wasn’t sure that my artistic abilities were anything special, and I wanted to study something else.” So, when it was time to choose a degree he dismissed architecture (which would have been the most natural path given his family history). At that time, Kanapat wanted to be a diplomat and decided to study international relations in Bangkok.

He completed the degree with excellence, but his head—and above all, his heart—told him that that was not his path. He needed more. In the end, the “architecture genes” of the Chalermpanthse family revealed themselves: he wanted to be an architect, like his father, uncle, and grandfather.

Photo by: Roberto Arribas


So what brought you to Spain? Kanapat smiles broadly and says: “I came one summer to participate in a summer course in León. I loved Spanish culture, the atmosphere in the cities, and I realized that the open and cheerful nature of Thais was similar to that of Spaniards.” Once the decision was made, Kanapat began to look for universities where he could study architecture in English. IE University was, without a doubt, the best choice for Kanapat.

A sense of geometry

Looking at his photography portfolio, you can see that Kanapat has a good eye. His photos have a sense of geometry, a concept that all architects understand quickly and which Kanapat tries to apply when photographing a scene. “I had a geometric vision at a very young age, when I started getting interested in photography,” he says. “In fact, I think it’s photography that is helping me understand the spatial vision in architecture.”

He remembers that his first camera was a birthday gift. Since then, the camera has been his faithful travel companion.

In his immense and almost endless photo archive, made up of fifty thousand snapshots, Kanapat keeps images of countries like Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Japan, Austria, Italy, and Spain. Myanmar, formerly Burma, is the country that surprised him the most, “because everything is very natural there, I could capture real life, without artifice with the camera. The photos I took of people in traditional markets continue to amaze me.”

Kanapat’s classmates call him “the photographer,” a nickname that he doesn’t deny fits him like a glove. “When you get to know me, you realize how much I enjoy taking pictures,” he says.

In the beginning I took pictures of everything, of anything I saw while walking down the street. After a while, I lost momentum; I had the feeling that I had already photographed everything. But I found new inspiration in street photography,” he says.

He discovered the possibilities of street photography when he “was lucky enough to be able to travel around the world with my father and devote myself to living my dream full time,” then he adds, stressing that “this led to my interest in analogue photography since using a DSLR wasn’t very discreet; I decided to get a new, much more manageable partner.”

Nikon, Olympus, and Yashica are included in his camera collection. Now, the “apple of his eye” is a Fujifilm X-T1, a camera without a mirror, that Kanapat always wears hanging from his shoulder. Some of his projects include a blog where he shows off his best photographs, the edition of a photobook, and an exhibition with his best street photographs.

IE University helps keep my dream of being a great photographer alive. In fact, they’ve put me in charge of different photography projects documenting different activities at the university. For example, I shot photos at the last IExPEERience, an initiative in which students from around the world are invited to experience the atmosphere at IE University’s campus in Segovia.” Kanapat is also part of the IE University Ambassador program, in which current IE students share their experiences with students interested in studying at IE.

Kanapat is happy in Segovia, “a city perfect for studying,” he says emphatically. The truth is that the young Thai got used to a small town like Segovia quickly, where, unlike in big cities, time seems to have stopped or, at least passes more slowly, as if the world were set at a different speed and the city followed its own rhythm. Segovia is as far from the hustle and bustle of downtown Bangkok as possible, but that doesn’t bother Kanapat Chalermpanth too much. He sees the city as a great place to call home; a perfect place to study architecture and an ideal setting to snap his photos.