The French Cultural Center’s third annual Photo Phnom Penh exhibition will attempt to bring the world more into focus starting on Saturday as it showcases 23 Asian and European photographers including, for the first time, 10 Cambodians artists.
“[Having this many Cambodian photographers] is very important, we’ve been working towards this since the beginning,” said curator Christian Caujolle. “Three years ago it was very difficult to find Cambodian photographers to exhibit.”
With such a wide range of artists, style and subjects, Mr Caujolle said the festival doesn’t have a central theme. Instead it has a general goal for viewers. “I want them to have a sense of discovery and pleasure,” he said.
Every year the festival divides shows among several conventional exhibition venues such as Meta House and Bophana Center and the unconventional venues, such as the riverside and boats, for maximum exposure. Mr Caujolle credits the strategy as part of the reason for the increase in Cambodian photographers.
“Young Cambodians are more accustomed to seeing that it makes sense to work in this field,” he said.
Mak Remissa, who studied with Mr Caujolle in 1996, debuts a series of crisp and striking water-themed photographs that are mainly abstract but contained the very literal presences of a turtle, fish or aquatic plants to remind viewers that water is essential to life.
Originally a painter, Mr Remissa carefully blended paint and water for the right hue then spread the liquids over glass surfaces to create 28 ethereal images.
His show opens on Dec 1 at the Royal University of Fine Arts.
Opening on the same day but at the Royal University of Phnom Penh is Sreng Meng Srun’s take on tourism in Cambodia, Sovan Philong’s study of youth and technology and Chhin Taingcchea’s dreamy black and white photos of RUPP.
Tourism is one of Cambodia’s main industries but although hordes of visitors come through to learn about the country’s culture, the tourists remain a bit of a mystery.
Mr Meng Srun turns the camera back on the tourists and profile international visitors as they made their way through popular tourist sites in Phnom Penh and Siem Reap.
A single laptop computer provides the ghostly light illuminated on the young faces in Mr Philong’s photographs. Mr Philong said he formed the idea for the show a year ago after noticing how many people in Phnom Penh use computers for work.
“It seems like everyone has access to a computer nowadays, but it is still very limited in the countryside, although every office in the city has one,” he said.
Mr Taingchhea participates in the festival for the second time with soft, retro-looking photos that will be hard to miss at RUPP as they come in the form of 13-large banners.
“I think that those old buildings were built correctly and high quality and that we need to protect them,” he said, of his inspiration.
At the University of Phnom Penh on the same day, is another exhibit focused on a building. You Chamroeun’s photos focus only on a large, unfinished building on Sotheros Boulevard but he finds a number of different perspectives.
Five other Cambodian reporters open their shows on Saturday including female photographers Siv Cheng and Neak Sophal.
Ms Cheng’s French cultural center exhibit equates life to the game of chess. She said both can be difficult, have twists and turns and sudden surprises.
Ms Sophal documented life of communities living near the Mekong River for her Java Cafe and Gallery exhibit.
“Their life is not very stable because they do not have their own land,” she said. “I hope that when people see my photos they will consider the families that lives on the water.”
Heng Ravuth presents a daring series of nude black and white self-portraits at XEM Gallery.
“I want people to consider and try to unravel the mystery in the photos,” Mr Ravuth said.
The past and present come together in Kim Hak’s PPP exhibit at the La Mansion, which features architecturally interesting buildings in Phnom Penh and a generation of young Cambodians, for a look at urban heritage.
For each photo Mr Hak combined well-known places in the city-including architect Van Molyvann’s house, Olympic Stadium and various colonial villas in the city-with people who had a connection to the place or live there. He described it as a cultural exchange of sorts.
Also at Java, Tith Narith takes an object commonly found in the street every day moves it to the gallery walls for the festival. Mr Narith scoured the streets looking for discarded playing cards and after a yearlong scavenger hunt, he collected all 56 cards in a deck.
An archeologist by trade, Mr Narith always used photography in his work to document places and objects but he said the camera’s uncompromising eye serves as the most accurate record of events and times.
“It’s more than 100 percent accurate,” Mr Narith said. “When you go home, you have forgotten.”