Students Take On Challenge of Architectural Photography

How does a photographer express in an image the scope and atmosphere that a building under construction will convey once fully formed?

This is the challenge that French photographer Alban Lecuyer recently set for Cambodian students at Studio Images, the advanced photography training course of the Institut Francais. The scenes they captured during his workshop are part of the exhibition “Photography, Space and Architecture” opening tonight at the Institut in Phnom Penh.

Construction materials sit on the floor of an unfinished room at Siem Reap International Airport (Phun Bandith)
Construction materials sit on the floor of an unfinished room at Siem Reap International Airport (Phun Bandith)

Architectural photography, Mr. Lecuyer said Wednesday, aims “to help the viewer grasp his environment.”

This is about “projecting construction sites into the future so people can understand the architectural identity of a place, which is a construction site today,” he added.

Easier said than done, said Toy Monireth, an NGO communications staffer. Ms. Monireth, who is enrolled in the yearlong Studio Images course, was among the 10 students who took up Mr. Lecuyer’s challenge two weeks ago.

“I’m just an ordinary photographer, and this was really hard to grasp,” she said.

Most of the fieldwork for the 15-day workshop took place in Siem Reap City at the construction site for the international airport’s extension.

While Ms. Monireth’s photos focused on how near or far from the original architectural illustration the building could end up being, Sarom Monory compared the size of the building with the people who will use it.

“So I needed to be up high to put in perspective the scale of the workers in the architecture,” Ms. Monory said. “Sometimes, I had to climb up…wearing a security uniform and a rope around my body.”

An airliner is seen on the tarmac through an under-construction section of Siem Reap International Airport (Alban Lecuyer)
An airliner is seen on the tarmac through an under-construction section of Siem Reap International Airport (Alban Lecuyer)

Mr. Lecuyer said he was amazed by the works produced and the diversity of the themes developed. And this, he said, by a group of people who did not know the first thing about architectural photography.

“I was truly surprised,” he said. “They had come a long way.”

All students accepted into Studio Images have already mastered the technical aspects of photography, said photographer Sovan Philong, who oversees the course.

It started in 2009 as an extension of Photo Phnom Penh to help strengthen photojournalism and art photography in the country, with only four students registered, said Mr. Philong, who was part of the first intake. This year, it has grown to a class of 98 people, he added.

The exhibition at the Institut Francais runs through March 30.

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