Cambodia is a country that takes on your senses and gives them a thorough going-over, sometimes in a bad way, but more often in a way that leaves you aching for more. More sharp and fat scents of spice and jasmine as you wander down a random street; more gorgeous scenery in richly saturated colours; more soft, silken fabrics, more aromatic dishes; more smiles, and, okay, perhaps less of the clanging from the pagoda at five in the morning, but still, at least it’s a little bit different.
This sensual alchemy is one of the reasons why the country is home to so many photographers who flit around hunting out those brief snaps of beauty like a butterfly seeks nectar. It’s great to be surrounded by them, and for amateur photographers and lovers of Cambodia alike, there is much that we can learn from them too. After all, they spend an enormous amount of time seeking out the best ways to record everything around us.
Siem Reap is home to a number of photographers some of whom were drawn here by the temples, and some of whom were encouraged to develop their talent after they arrived by the overflowing world of possibility around them. Browsing their websites offers fascinating ways to look at Cambodia and for those hoping to get better shots of the temples and everything else there is to see, it’s a great way to glean a few ideas on perspective and composition.
John McDermott arrived here in 1995 to record a solar eclipse over the temples, and was one of the first to be captivated. He moved here two years later and his beautiful dreamlike images of the temples powerfully evoke the mysteries of Angkor, and the deep sense of a time lost. You can also see his work at his galleries on The Alley and at the FCC Complex.
Another temple-photographer is Kimleng Sang, a young Cambodian who discovered his talent after a chance encounter with a Canadian photographer who supported his first few years of studying the art. Kimleng, who is also a tuk tuk driver, has made it his life’s mission to find the best ways of recording the temples of which he is so proud. Much can be learned from looking at his images, or from going on one of his tuk tuk photography tours which are amazing value for money.
Thierry Diwo has also been recording elements of Cambodia for a number of years now, and his work on the hill tribes of Ratanakiri and Mondulkiri is just gorgeous, while his shots of the temples evoke the same sense of dreams and timelessness as John McDermott’s images. He has a gallery, Diwo Gallery, overlooking the river, beside Old Market, where you’ll also find Cambodian statues and other art that will make you bemoan baggage allowances to the heavens.
Eric de Vries creates mostly black and white images go beyond the temples and are more documentary in style. They offer fascinating insights into different parts of Cambodia you might not ordinarily encounter. Eric, in partnership with Carolyn O’Neill, also offers street photography workshops. Carolyn’s own images of Angkor using the spooky little plastic Holga are a shining example of that camera’s extraordinary powers, and of her beautiful eye.
Oyen Rodriguez is a young and gifted photographer from the Philippines who has been developing his craft here for the last three years. His main focus is commercial photography, but his poppy Cambodia street photography is worth checking out, and if you’ve ever been thinking about getting some portraits done you really have to visit his site.
Making moves from amateur to professional, Stèphane de Greef is a Belgian environmental engineer, who has spent the last few years working with landmine victims, and is mildy obsessed with ants. His website includes some spectacular shots of some of the buggy little “neighbours” who share the space we occupy here that are fascinating, even to someone who doesn’t believe that arachnophobia should be a word since all sane people should feel this way. There should instead be a word for people who aren’t afraid of spiders. Something that rhymes with ‘bonkers’ perhaps.
Anna Bella Betts isn’t formally a professional photographer yet, but she should be. I’m including her here though because if her beautifully observed images don’t inspire you to instantly run out with your camera and start trying to capture all the exquisite essential details of everything around us, then you might just be a rock.
By Nicky Sullivan
Last updated on 27th February, 2015.