Cambodian Photography – Part 1

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Arguably, Dith Pran (1942 – 2008) is the most famous of Cambodian photographers. His story, working with foreign journalists, before the Khmer Rouge takeover, and subsequent imprisonment, led to the Killing Fields movie (1984).

But, what else is going on in Cambodian Photography? I have been looking at this for a while, and decided it was time to write something in the CRJ. I expect I will create a ‘mini-series’, hence Part 1.

A great source of knowledge is Singaporean Zhuang Wubin. He has researched South east Asian photography extensively, and in 2016 published perhaps the authoritative book on the subject, ‘Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey‘. There is also an excellent paper on Academia.edu which gives a pretty exhaustive list of photographers working around 2010.

First, a few gross over-generalisations:

  • Photography since 1979 has often been driven by ‘white male journalists’, especially when referencing the impact of 1975-1979.
  • There is a rising group of younger, Cambodian photographers. Perhaps the Stiev Selepak collective is the most famous. Founded in 2007, the group also founded the Sa Sa Gallery in Phnom Penh, in 2009. Unfortunately their original building was demolished for re-development in 2017. Perhaps their strongest current activity is a lively residency program, called Pisaot.
  • It is fair to say that, like most young photographers, young Cambodian photographers largely focus on what is happening today in the Country, rather than looking back. There are some exceptions, which I will get into in a later post.
  • There are some strong, local female photographers, but it is a small group.
  • The strongest, longest running photo-festival is in Siem Reap, every December – the Angkor Photo Festival. This is built around workshops for emerging photographers. I was too late to participate this year, though it’s on the list for 2019 (the 14th such festival).

With that ‘local’ background, in this post I will start with three ‘foreign’ photographers.

First, Charles Fox, from the UK, and who has lived in Cambodia for a decade. I’ll pick one of his projects – the divers searching for and disposing of unexploded ordnance, in his series Dark Waters (2015).

A strong body of work, with a compelling theme. Mine clearing is still an issue in Cambodia, usually led by the CMAC charity, and these specialists were clearing the Mekong and Tonle Sap Lake. There is a lesson here for me – a clear theme!

Perhaps more interesting in the context of my work, Charles started a project ‘Found Cambodia‘, collecting photographs taken by Cambodians since before KR times. He re-photographs and returns all images to their owners.

It is a fascinating archive, especially as there is also a possibility that such ‘memorabilia’ / found images could play a role in my project – an issue I discussed with Cemre.

Another British photographer is Chris Cusick.

Chris has been in Siem Reap since 2014, running workshops, conducting tours and doing commercial work.

Lovely imagery, travel, documentary and portraits, with a clear aesthetic and some compelling storylines.

Chris’ ‘Curious Kingdom‘ series throws a new light onto the well trodden tourist paths.

And the third, British-born photographer is George Nickels.

He is a freelancer, working in the region since 2011, with images distributed through AP, Getty Images, NurPhoto, Sipa Press and Zuma.

This image is from George’s ‘Perfect Soldiers‘ series, spotlighting a human tragedy which is still an issue today

So, inspiration, and food for thought.

A series to be continued.

…………………..

Header © Dith Pran, 1974

All images © copyright the respective photographers. Reproduced here for academic research only. Not to be downloaded without permission.

Wubin, Zhuang. 2010. Out of Nowhere. Documentary Photography from Cambodia. Available at: https://www.academia.edu/12050966/_Out_of_Nowhere_Documentary_Photography_from_Cambodia_2010_. (Accessed 5/7/2018)

Wubin, Zhuang. 2016. Photography in Southeast Asia: A Survey. Singapore: NUS Press.