When the moment to capture an image is filled with such tension that any superfluous detail would betray the emotions of the people living it, art may need to simplify nature to better convey the feeling.
And this, for photographer Vandy Rattana and painter Denis Min-Kim, often means shedding colors and using black and white.
Most photos in Vandy Rattana’s “Chess” series-on exhibit at New Art Gallery on Street 9 through Nov 21-were done in black and white.
“I carry two cameras, one for black and white and one for color,” he explained. “If it feels better for black and white, I do black and white. I can’t really say why. You see color in the world every day, but black and white is another kind of feeling.”
The suspense expressed in his black and white photos could not be stronger. In one of them, the world seems to be holding its breath: As a hand reaches for a chess piece, about to make the move that will win or lose the game, life suddenly turns into a chessboard and all that matters for players as well as spectators is the next moment.
People engrossed in chess games on sidewalks or at cafes are familiar scenes in Phnom Penh, said Vandy Rattana. What fascinates him about them, he said, “is the concentration of the players. When they play, they forget everything, how much they earn a day, or what they have to eat today-everything.”
This, and the shapes of the pieces which remind him of pagodas and the Royal Palace, led Vandy Rattana to spend six months photographing chess games on his street in Phnom Penh, either at the café in front of his house or elsewhere in the neighborhood as the one and only chessboard was passed around.
For Denis Min-Kim whose “Folds of Matter” series of large black-and-white paintings are exhibited at the French Cultural Center through Saturday, black and white is not a natural vision of things. “Black and white is a sort of radiography of reality,” which may enable the artist to focus on a moment in time, he said.
Min-Kim’s nearly 2-meter high close-ups in black and white accentuate the creases that life has left on the faces of Cambodian villagers; the faith of a person whose wrinkled hands are joined in prayer; or the gravity beyond his years on the face of a young boy.
Min-Kim used industrial outdoor paint on canvas for his series. “I have the feeling that I’m getting a black more intense with this than with China ink. It has to be thinned with petrol or white spirit [an organic solvent], so it’s something fairly toxic. But it gives a black that, to me, seems thicker, more dense.”
From up close, Min-Kim’s works seem abstract; the shape of the subject-an elephant’s eye and trunk for instance-only appearing when viewed from a distance. This has to do with doing larger-than-life paintings, he said.
“When I paint something in large format, I actually paint as abstract as possible, in order to forget what it is and to only consider the medium I have in terms of abstract and geometric mass and forms that overlap,” he said.
“What is interesting with this technique is that by making things as abstract as possible, one manages to make them even more realistic,” Min-Kim said, because one lets details of a person’s face, an animal or a scenery come to mind rather than concentrate-and maybe limit-one’s vision of it, he said.
Born in Phnom Penh in 1980, Vandy Rattana is now studying law at Pannasastra University. He also teaches photography to children at several NGOs, he said.
Min-Kim, who was born in France in 1981, has a Cambodian father and a French mother. He studied at the art school Ecole Superieure d’Art in Marseilles in the south of France.
He moved to Cambodia in August 2006, and now works in his studio in Phnom Penh.