Cait Oppermann documents the difficult and dynamic sport of takraw

Travelling back to Bangkok after seeing locals practice the game a few years back, Cait's latest series shines a light on the superhuman quality of its players.

Date
5 March 2020
Reading Time
3 minute read

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A fair few years ago now the New York-based photographer Cait Oppermann was assisting the practitioner she worked for on their first job together. Travelling to Thailand, the job took place over ten days in Bangkok and with the odd few days off in between, Cait wandered around the city.

On her walks the photographer spotted groups playing a unique sport called takraw, a mix of “volleyball, football, gymnastics and martial arts,” Cait recalls to us. “I’d never seen such a dynamic sport in my life and I spent a great deal of time watching matches… I decided back then that I’d come back some day to watch and dive a little deeper into the sport.”

Now assisting no one but herself, Cait recently found the time to head back to Thailand with the purpose of finally documenting takraw in mind. Working with a Thai local to gain “a better understanding of who the players were and the dynamics of the courts,” getting to a place of understanding of who these groups of people were, and what drives them to gather and play the sport, was particularly important for Cait before she even thought of picking up a camera. It’s this attribute of Cait as person, as much as a photographer, which makes her work so engaging, explaining how she’s “always been interested in athletes in general as well as what people do with their spare time, how people make choices about what to do in the hours when they aren’t trying to support themselves or others.”

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Cait Oppermann: Takraw

Over time what Cait discovered was how many of the takraw players were local taxi drivers taking part in a game or two before or after their shifts. Many too were refugees from nearby countries, “seeking a place to live and work that felt safer and more prosperous for them,” the photographer describes. “They also expressed the difficulties of working in Thailand as a refugee but that takraw helped them form new communities to be a part of despite being far from home.”

All of this knowledge was gathered at “a fairly slow pace,” she describes, pointing out how “each court has a figure of who serves as a ‘boss’ or leader, who determines who can hang around.” With this in mind Cait first visited the courts with no equipment “to express my interest in getting to know the sport better and establish a rapport with the boss so that he could make a call or not if he was okay with me hanging around.” Her acceptance was helped by Cait taking the time to learn “which kind of beer brand they preferred so that I could bring some with me as a thank you for allowing me in.”

As a result Cait’s latest series on takraw is an intimate portrait of the sport. Played by everyday people its technique is one she describes as “almost superhuman”, and their abilities are shot by Cait with immense detail.

A certain character in the photographs is also added by the fact that players would often gather to play beneath underpasses, in order to shield themselves from the sun or rain. Consequently shadow and light is a real focus in the series, with players' faces often slightly hidden by the shadows from the structures above them. Light then adds a certain sheen to players' physiques, picking up on trails of sweat from the pressure of the game as they leap up to touch the ball. “With this project,” the photographer adds, “I wanted to draw attention to something that I’m personally in awe of through documentation of the courts and their players.”

Cait hopes viewers of the series can see how she found something “truly amazing and illustrates some of the most incredible abilities of humans,” she concludes. Still trying to track down some of the players to show them the photographs, “I’ve enjoyed being able to reflect the photos back to those who were generous enough to let me in.”

GalleryCait Oppermann: Takraw

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Cait Oppermann: Takraw

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About the Author

Lucy Bourton

Lucy joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in July 2016 after graduating from Chelsea College of Art. In October 2016 she became a staff writer on the editorial team and in January 2019 was made It’s Nice That’s deputy editor. Feel free to get in contact with Lucy about new and upcoming creative projects or editorial ideas for the site.

lb@itsnicethat.com

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