Week Six Reflections – Part One

mickyates Cambodia, CambodiaFMP, Collaboration, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Genocide, Ideas, Photography, Plans & Notes, Portrait, Project Development, Reflections, SPWeek6, Sustainable Prospects, Traces, Unfinished Stories Leave a Comment

These are some thoughts on week two of my Cambodia trip.

As noted last week, the main purpose is to see how much progress I can make in the practicalities of moving the project forward – book, video, installation in Phnom Penh in 2019. Much networking is required, and establish what future collaborations might be possible. I also want to move forward my photography on multiple fronts – portrait, traces, video, education documentary and ‘Genocide context’ for the personal stories of Sarath and family.

My project intentions are unchanged, although of course the execution and experimentation is developing in so many ways through the MA to date. As reminder, the overall theme is Sarath’s devoting his life to education, after his Khmer Rouge experiences.

So, what happened? Bottom line, the trip exceeded expectations. here’s a day-by-day view:

  • Sunday, Sarath and I travelled to Preah Vihear province, a 6 hour drive. Sarath had a school workshop planned, and we met the Provincial Education people.
  • Monday, we visited Preah Vihear Temple, to continue my photo exploratory. I was last there 7 years ago. We also made an impromptu visit to Trapeang Prasat. This is the location of our first encounter with the Khmer Rouge (2000), and where we built our first school.
  • Tuesday, we set out to find ‘hidden’ Killing Fields, in Rovieng and Kampong Thma. These are well off the tourist track (local and international), though on the way back to Phnom Penh.
  • Wednesday, I had arranged to meet book publishers. They reminded me that it was the annual Photo Phnom Penh festival, so I also made contact with local photographers. Networking!
  • Thursday, I met with the biggest book store chain in Cambodia, to follow on from last week’s discussion. I also continued my Photo Phnom Penh exploration, and then met, for the first time, Youk Chhang, Director of DC-Cam.
  • Friday, homeward bound.

I am going to deal here just with the Phnom Penh activities, with a separate post on our field trip.

Bandol Teav, from Image Printing Group, was particularly helpful in establishing what is and what is not feasible in creating a book in Cambodia. The paper choices are limited, and production is semi-manual. But they have many best sellers in their stable, and offer a well established service, locally and internationally. Based on our conversation, Bandol now has my draft specification and will provide quotes, for both colour and black and white books, English and Khmer.

William Bagley, at Monument Books, offered a lot of insight into what sells (and what does not) in Cambodia. It seems that local hardback production is currently not really possible in Cambodia. We looked over a range of recent books, to consider what works and what does not. William also counselled against a Khmer/English book, which was my ‘first choice’. To be considered.

William Bagley

Photo Phnom Penh is an annual event, at multiple locations across the city. Its locus is the Institute Francais du Cambodge.

Through Facebook, I met La Mo, a noted local photographer who has a major exhibition at the Institut. Really lovely work, ‘Kindness’, showing how people help others in the floods, with improvised transport of all kinds. All of the images were shot from above, at his home, and the Festival organisers had paid to have large, weatherproof pictures created so that they can be exhibited outdoors.

In fact several of the PPP locations were outdoors, which offers food for thought for my work.

La Mo

La Mo and I decided to wander around Phnom Penh and visit some of the other exhibitions. In so doing, we met EM Siem, of X-EM Gallery. He’s an artist, and right now is doing a series of paintings based on Tuol Sleng Mug shots.

His gallery is also featuring the work of Yoshinory Mizutani – his images of parakeets in Tokyo had already featured earlier in this MA program, courtesy of Gary, so there was a  certain symmetry in place.

X-Em Gallery

EM Riem is  in the header – I am reliably informed he is also (affectionately) known as Cambodia’s Lady Gaga ..

Following these meetings, I have quite a few new Facebook and Instagram contacts. La Mo and I agreed to meet up when I am next in town, to shoot together with a few other people. Related, I also connected with Mak Remissa. His allegorical works are simply beautiful, and featured in some of my creative thought processes in Surfaces & Strategies. I hope we can also meet on my next visit.

Mak Remissa

Mak Remissa’s contribution to the Festival was shown at the National Education Institute. He is a well established  journalist, and he created the series ‘From Hunting to Shooting’ – about trying to change the bad habit of hunting birds. His work, amongst other influences, has inspired me to consider how to combine traditional Cambodian Folk Stories of ‘Good and Bad’ (the Gatiloke) with the imagery of the Aftermath of Genocide – seeking connection in how education can both liberate and control.

Talking to the Gallery Manager, Chenda Seang, I was also able to connect with Youk Chhang that same day. There is a separate post on our meeting, and subsequently we have engaged in an active email dialogue.

So, what are my reflections?

  1. There is a very active photo scene in Cambodia, and I need to continue my efforts to engage. The work is inspirational, and provides a fount of ideas on how to address social issues with local sensitivity.
  2. Just as Lukas suggested, it will be possible to execute a good quality book in Phnom Penh – and market it!
  3. Networking works – but then I knew that. Whilst I had planned some of what happened, several connections exceeded my expectations.
  4. Serendipity works, too!
  5. Social Media will be a very good way to stay in touch with local artists and galleries.

Week Six Reflections – Part Two

A Prayer from Hell

mickyates Aesthetics, Art, Cambodia, CambodiaFMP, Collaboration, ContextualResearch, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Dark Tourism, Genocide, Ideas, Photography, Plans & Notes, Practice, Project Development, SPWeek7, Sustainable Prospects, Traces, Unfinished Stories Leave a Comment

In Phnom Penh last week, I met Youk Chhang for the first time. The visit including a lot of such networking activities, in order to start the process of getting my projects executed next year in Cambodia.

Youk is the Director of the Documentary Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam), which was founded by Yale University in 1994/5. He has led the center ever since, and is founder of the Sleuk Rith Institute. A tireless advocate of the truth, always using data, Youk was both welcoming and knowledgeable. I was impressed by how objective he was on the motivations and current perceptions of all the actors in this decades old drama.

DC-Cam has been independent of Yale since 1997, and is a Cambodian NGO. The Center has the world’s largest collection of archival material of all kinds on the Khmer Rouge Genocide.

DC-Cam was instrumental in providing essential data to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which pursued criminal charges against the KR leaders. I will not dwell on that Tribunal’s success or failure at this point.

In talking with Youk, we explored many areas of common interest, including my plans for an Installation and book in Phnom Penh, and his plans for the Sleuk Rith Insitute, a new Global center of learning on Genocide (and Genocide prevention).

In fact, subsequently we have been able to provide each other with several networked connections – ironically, mine in Cambodia and Youk’s in the USA.

For now, I want to note two specifics.

First, Youk showed me the one of the Rolleiflex cameras used to take the Tuol Sleng ‘mug shots’ in 1975-1979.

As noted in Michelle Caswell’s book, Archiving the Unspeakable, once a photograph was taken, the inexorable bureaucratic process of torture, confession and execution took place. Nhem En, the leader of the photography group, was trained in China, and is on record as being pleased with the technical quality of the images.

I picked up the camera, and pondered. How extraordinary to hold it, an instrument of death – not just philosophically but practically. It was a central part of the apparatus of killing.

Secondly, I shared my work on Traces of Genocide, as in the landings Exhibition.

I was shooting more for the series last week – not least against Krishna’s brief to explore the inclusion of humanity in the work, and Gary’s suggestion of ‘thicker’ images.

Youk was very complimentary and encouraged me to continue. He had seen so many approaches to and records of the Genocide, and wrote:

‘This is extraordinary! Wow!! 

I am very picky with photos in general. But this one is different in approaching the genocide topic. It really conveys how difficult it is to describe the crimes of genocide.

And traces also look like a Prayer from Hell‘.

A Prayer from Hell. With Youk’s permission, I am going to consider using that title for the work, both in WIP and potentially in the final project.

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Caswell, Michelle. 2014. Archiving the Unspeakable: Silence, Memory, and the Photographic Record in Cambodia. Madison: Univ Wisconsin.

En, Nhem & Duong, Dara. 2014. The Khmer Rouge’s Photographer at S21. Phnom Penh: Nhem En.

Flusser, Vilém. 1983 (Trans. 2000). Towards a Philosophy of Photography. London: Reaktion Books

Riley, Chris & Niven, Douglas. 1996. The Killing Fields. Santa Fe: Twin Palms Publishers.

Trouillot, Michel-Ralph. 1995. Silencing the Past. Boston: Beacon Press.

Tagg, John. 1988. The Burden of Representation. Amherst: Univ of Massachusetts.

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All images featured here are all from my latest visit to Cambodia