Three weeks ago, Has Sreyna had not even picked up a camera. Now, strangers were admiring a photographer she had taken of her 75-year-old grandmother as she crouched on the hard-packed earth, staring at a smoking pot as she rested her head in her hand.
“She is very strong,” Ms. Sreyna said. “Stronger than me,” she said, quietly appreciating, along with others, the photograph she had taken of her grandmother.
The small gathering in the upper room of the New Leaf Gallery in Siem Reap earlier this month was the finale of the PhotoForward program, where Ms. Sreyna and seven other ordinary women leaned to use a camera to take photos capturing the life of women in Cambodia.
The pictures on exhibition showed women cooking, using computers, standing next to huts and attending weddings.
“This is real life,” Ms. Sreyna said. “This is Cambodia. This is women working, this is what they do.”
Spotlights were on the photos, but the women behind the camera were just as important as the women portrayed in print.
The photos are a way for women to have a voice in an increasingly connected world, said Allison Milewski, the founder of PhotoForward, which has worked with children and adults across Southeast Asia.
“The women who are in my classes, they feel disconnected from the world,” Ms. Milewski said.
“Even in a rural area kids will have smart phones and cell phones. That can leave this generation feeling like they don’t have a voice,” she said.
The women amateur photographers were recruited to the program through the Women’s Resource Center in Siem Reap, an organization providing emotional and legal help, informal education and advice on health and parenting to women and girls.
Learning to take photos had a therapeutic effect for some of the women said Pisey Kim, the managing director of the center.
“They can show emotion and relieve stress,” she said of the photos. “Not many people understand using art to relieve emotion.”
Although the photos weren’t intended to come with a price tag, American visitor Barbara Rhine asked to purchase two of the images.
On her trip through Southeast Asia, Ms. Rhine said that she was touched by the hard working women she’d seen, and thought the photos captured the beauty of their subjects.
“The photographs are excellent quality,” she said.
“Then to find out some of these artists have just picked up a camera for the first time means they’re very talented.”