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Photos give peek into Phnom Penh’s rebirth

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Photographer Kim Hak’s series Daun Penh shows scenes around Phnom Penh taken from the backs of tuk-tuks. The framing represents a blindfold being removed to reveal the post-conflict city. Photograph: Kim Hak/Phnom Penh Post

After being evacuated from Phnom Penh by the Khmer Rouge in 1975 and fleeing abroad, many Cambodians have yet to see how the capital city has been reborn since.

Now Battambang-born photographer Kim Hak, 31, has decided to use his camera lens to give those émigrés a sense of the current cityscape, by dedicating a year to capturing various images of Phnom Penh as it is today.

“In 1975, people in Phnom Penh were forced out of their home,” Kim Hak, 31, says.

“Some who survived the Khmer Rouge regime fled to other countries, and those people haven’t had a chance to see their city. When I show these photographs, they will see their old city.”

Fifty-one of these Phnom Penh images will be shown in Kim Hak’s exhibition, entitled Daun Penh, at the Ryum Institute from tomorrow.

After receiving a degree in tourism management, Kim Hak developed his photography skills by attending workshops in Malaysia, Thailand, Singapore and at Phnom Penh’s French Institute.

His portraits have begun to gain international recognition – an exhibit entitled ON, about Cambodia’s colonial architecture, showed in Paris last year, and will show in Le Pouliguen, France, and Toronto, Canada, this year.

In the Daun Penh series, Kim Hak uses symbolism to represent both the suffering endured during the Khmer Rouge and the freedom of moving past this tragedy.

All the photographs were shot between 5pm and 7pm, a time when Kim Hak says the Khmer Rouge conducted most of its killings.

“I want to express that it’s the time the Khmer Rouge tied people up and brought them for execution.”

It’s also the time people come home from work, a return he likens to people returning to Phnom Penh after years away.

The back of a tuk-tuk window serves as a thin, horizontal frame for the photographs, which show people relaxing along the riverside, the Independence Monument, and other sites around the city.

The frames are meant to represent the blindfolds the Khmer Rouge would tie on victims before execution, while the scenes show what is visible when the blindfold is taken away.

“The sight we see through the tuk-tuk’s window is like a blindfold that was just removed from a person’s face,” Kim Hak says of the images.

The Daun Penh opening will begin at 4pm at the Reyum Institute, #47 St 178, Phnom Penh, and it will be on display for three weeks.

To contact the reporter on this story: Roth Meas at roth.meas@phnompenhpost.com

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