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A fresh look at heritage buildings

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  Photos on this page are from Kim Hak’s haunting series of young people in old mansions, on show at La Mansion at 32 Sothearos Boulevard. KIM HAK/PHOTO PHNOM PENH

“DESTROYING old heritage buildings is like killing old people – they can tell us a lot of stories,” says photographer Kim Hak. His exhibition, now on display amid the decaying elegance of La Mansion on Sothearos Boulevard, as part of Photo Phnom Penh, is called ON.

“ON comes from two words, old and new,” the artist said. Whereas “old” refers to ancient buildings, from colonial time up to Vann Molyvann period, “new” hints at the generation of urban youth living in the city.

“I have seen some old buildings, in Phnom Penh and in other parts of the country, being knocked down and replaced by new buildings to meet the current demand,” Kim Hak said.

In 2008, the artist started to take photos of interesting buildings around town from the outside, selecting public buildings such as schools, universities, cinemas, theatres, the Olympic stadium and some private villas.

His message is simple. Kim Hak is asking people of all ages to pay attention to old buildings and preserve them.

“As I was born after the Khmer Rouge regime, I also wanted to do something for my generation, so I chose urban youth, people who were born after 1979, to work with in this series,” he said.

As Kim Hak wanted to know how these people felt in different situations, he photographed people who were associated with the buildings both inside and outside of them. “These people live or work in the buildings, or are studying architecture,” he said.

So far, has taken pictures of 30 buildings in Phnom Penh, 21 of which are exhibited at La Mansion. “This festival is a kind of challenge for Cambodian photographers. It opens our eyes on the world’s photography but at the same time, we have to show things from our country to people in the world,” he said.

Kim Hak plans to keep working on his ON project next year – this time, travelling around the provinces to document decaying buildings across the Kingdom.

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