The focus of the week was Cambodia. I arrived on Wednesday, from London via Singapore. From our home to the hotel takes about 22 hours. This is the third visit of the year, and a critical one. I have given myself the first year of the MA to sort out feasibilities, as well as improve my photographic approach.
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.
The other objectives include moving forward my photography on multiple fronts – portrait, traces, education documentary and context for the personal stories of Sarath and family. We plan to visit ‘hidden’ killing fields, in the north of the country, rarely visited even by locals, to add death to this. We have also set up a full day for video, discussed below.
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.
As I write this, I am only a few days into the trip, but they have been eventful ones.
Critical this trip is to make more and different kinds of local connections. I made contact with Monument Books, the biggest store (and book marketing) group in the country. I also continued my exploration of the gallery scene, both as separately reported.
An encouraging start, although much more to do in the coming days.
I also played tourist and indulged my liking of street photography. This included visiting the Royal Palace, which I have not done for many years.
At the Palace I experimented with the traces idea, trying to be more mindful of the imagery, and reflecting Gary’s feedback.
Whilst some images played well in the intense light and shade, the effort was not altogether successful, needing more variety if I am to properly illustrate the ‘Unfinished Stores’.
The most significant events of the week revolved around video and portraiture. I was aware that portraits I took of the family last time were not good enough – needing more intimacy and a cleaner aesthetic. Spending a day with the family, and in particular Arng Yon, Sarath’s 87 year old mother gave some good opportunities. The header is part of that series.
On the last trip I had connected with Dawi and Krista Um, both really intrigued by the project, and consequently offering their services freely. Dawi is a professional videographer, American but with Cambodian family. A collection of video stories will form part of any final installation. Dawi shot some video on my last trip, but we all felt we could do better.
We spent a day recording with Sarath, his mother and his Sister (Srey Toch), set in the countryside. Sarath had drafted the stories, with my edits and subsequent direction. Dawi and Krista created different settings for the three speakers. A fully collaborative effort.
Some of the takes became quite emotional, and the first story edit looks very good (Dawi did that the same evening). We expect to have a strong, 30 minute ‘final’ reel containing 6-10 stories.
My reflections on the first few days?
- Having a plan of action ahead of being here is critical, as always. It’s a pretty packed agenda, though always leave space for change and serendipity.
- Collaboration is key – especially in complementary skill sets.
- Whilst I already have a strong network in Cambodia in the educational and social development space, I am starting to build a more ‘business oriented’ one, which needs more work next week.
- I believe that the new portrait series shows more promise than earlier work, being more reflective – both on the part of the subject and the photographer. I have not yet had time to edit and process.
- Being up-country is going to be critical to make progress on traces, and the development of Sarath’s personal story.