Simon Toffanello has been to every province in Cambodia since moving here three years ago. He thought Kampot was the prettiest locale he visited, and he liked Pailin and Anlong Veng, which to him suggested an atmosphere of danger. Wherever he went, he traveled on his Suzuki dirtbike with a camera on his shoulder.
“That’s basically it, really, riding around,” he said.
It sounds like a simple concept, as is the title of his exhibit—“Roam Cambodia”—that opened Friday at Java Cafe and Gallery. But Tofanello’s work is not simplistic, nor is it typical travel photography.
For one thing, the 38-year-old photographer, who grew up in England, said he is not interested in people themselves or even culture as the focal point of his work, although he acknowledged that some of those themes come through in his photos. Instead, he focuses on ordinary objects, like lampposts, pavement and parts of buildings—a few of his favorite subjects.
“It’s mostly just a pure visual thing,” he said. “Its all about objects, spaces and lines and things that happen within those spaces rather than, ‘Oh look, that’s cute, there’s a cyclo, that’s really funny.’”
Toffanello described some of his dyptich and triptych works, which show more than one photo in a sequence, as “time frames” or “little time jumps” because of the way that they portray a type of narrative in only a few frames.
“They kind of lend themselves to cinema, I suppose, rather than just a single still image.”
He credits this aspect of his work to his background in film; he studied it during college and made award-winning short films in Europe before focusing on photography.
Unlike most films, though, Toffanello’s fragmented—and very brief—narratives are for the most part unplanned and largely dictated by chance.
When he arrives at a scene that seems to lend itself to a theme, he walks around the space or the subject, frames the photo, and then sits back and “waits for something to happen.”
Sometimes he becomes friendly with an onlooker, whom he will invite to be in the photo, and he will put them in the right spot.
“It’s kind of a mix of capturing stuff and arranging things a little bit loosely,” he said.