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Capturing a changing environment

090427_18.jpg
090427_18.jpg

British photographer Paul Stewart showcases images of protected Cambodian wetlands in his exhibition ‘The Flooded Forests of Northern Cambodia’ to raise the profile of the area

©PAUL STEWART

One of the images of the show.

Phnom Penh-based British photographer Paul Stewart is to launch an exhibition of his panoramas from the flooded forests of Northern Cambodia at the FCC tonight.

The images were taken in early 2009 in protected wetlands between Stung Treng town and the Lao border as part of an ongoing project to photograph the Mekong River from its outlet in the South China Sea to its source in the Tibetan plateau.

Stewart said he had decided to exhibit the images from the site to raise the profile of the area among tourists.

He hopes his images encourage travellers to go out of their way to visit the 14,600-hectare wetland site, which is protected under the Convention on Wetlands that Cambodia signed in 1999.

"It's a good pinpoint example to give people an idea of this part of the river," Stewart said. "It is only 50 to 60 kilometres, but it is gorgeous."

The images were taken during the dry season when the trees were largely exposed, but in the wet season they become almost totally submerged as the river rises by up to 8 metres.

"Imagine you are a dolphin swimming through the area and suddenly the water level changes by 8 metres," Stewart said.  "That's a profound amount of change in the environment. As a human navigating the river by boat, all you have in the rainy season is the swaying tops of trees in the water. It's incredible."

There are presently three wetland areas in Cambodia. The subject of Paul Stewart's exhibition is known as Ramsar Site 999, or by its formal name, "Middle Stretches of the Mekong River north of Stung Treng".

Each image in the exhibition is composed of 24 exposures.

Using a special panoramic head, Stewart rotated the camera lens around a focal point and captured six frames around a full 360 degrees. Each frame is taken three times: the first using the correct exposure, the second underexposing the image by one stop and the third overexposing it to enhance the contrast in the image. The camera is then pointed straight up, and three more exposures are taken before being swivelled downwards to repeat the process.

The 24 exposures, representing eight frames, are then blended to create a two-dimensional representation of what is essentially a sphere.

"The Flooded Forests of Northern Cambodia" opens at the FCC at 6pm today and runs until the May 31.

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