Brent Lewin – Street Elephants

“Since 2007 I have been documenting the plight of the Asian elephant in Thailand. Once a symbol of honour, dignity and the engine of rural development, many of these once proud creatures have been left on the fringes of Thailand’s modern economy and have come to represent the failures and inequity of the country’s economic development.

My work in this area is mainly informed by the experience of the Gouey mahouts of Surin province who have been keeping elephants as pets for centuries and proudly hold the title of being the first to capture wild elephants in the region. The plight of the Thai elephants and their caregivers is a narrative that is played out in different forms in many developing countries across the world. It is the story of struggle: the struggle to preserve traditional cultural identities in a rapidly changing economic landscape and the struggle between tradition and modernity. It is about the choices individuals make in order to preserve a dying way of life and the lengths people will go to safeguard this fading way of life, even when it begins to harm the very things they hold most valuable.

The elephant represented as the majestic centerpiece in Thailand’s collective unconscious, both past and present, is in undeniable contrast with the current tragic reality of the Thai elephant. The notion of the elephant as symbolic of strength and pride in Thailand is extinct everywhere except in Thai’s minds. My work concentrates on how this is group denial is manifested and the repercussions of failing to come to terms with the reality.”

Lewin1Mongkum, age 2

Lewin2Gamlai, age 10

Lewin3Youwi, age 15

Lewin4Cola, age 24

Lewin5Yai, age 35

Lewin6Boo, age 40