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Portraits of a rescued population

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Tim Page captured pictures of Cambodian villagers who have been relocated to plots of their own land. Photograph: Tim Page/Phnom Penh Post

Smiling eyes look out from the canvas. They don’t have much, but  they’re grateful for what they have.

Veteran photographer Tim Page’s latest exhibition, Land is Life, captures the lives of Cambodians who have been given a fresh start.

Page portrays the everyday lives of beneficiaries of the Land Allocation for Social and Economic Development (LASED). The exhibition opens at Meta House tonight.

For Land is Life, Page documented the lives of some of Cambodia’s landless and land-poor people, stripped from their land in the name of economic development.

Five years into the LASED project, funded by the German government and the World Bank, families from Kratie, Kampong Cham and Kampong Thom have been relocated to plots of their own, and micro-communities are beginning to emerge.

It was Page’s job to delve into these developing communities and capture the triumphs, hardships and emotions of families labouring to make a better life.

His work was funded by the German Government through GIZ, a Cambodia-based branch that deals with aid.

These families have been receiving assistance from the project as part of its countrywide implementation strategy to boost rural development through the legal mechanism of social land concessions.

People in the villages were rewarded for their ingenuity or hard work, Page says.

Families who sent their children to school, or tried to be industrious, were given more in the way of aid.

Page, who has shot extensively in war zones and developing nations, says capturing Khmer people wasn’t difficult.

“It’s like they were born smiling,” he says.

The challenge was finding what was exciting about a photo. “How do you make your picture stand out? What’s the slight twitch in an ordinary situation?”

A lot of being a photographer is waiting around and thinking about what you’re going to shoot, Page says.

“But when something happens, you need to have the experience to capture it.”

Page says making something out of a subject that has never been photographed before was an incredible challenge.

But the collection of expressive, A1-sized photos is testament to his success.

The beneficiaries portrayed in the exhibition are now living on degraded forest land in the most remote parts of Cambodia, but what they had before was worse.
“A good percentage of them have what you’d call heart-wrenching stories,” Page says.

Page has shot other aid projects, including the German government’s program to relocate street squatters in Battambang and a Red Cross-funded project to replace the old prosthetic leg of a man from Battambang that Page initiated himself.

He says he feels “incredibly privileged” to have this exhibition. “I’m excited about taking pictures... it’s about as good as it gets.

“Having an exhibition for three or four months is like being on the front page of National Geographic.”

Despite having suffered three heart attacks and a broken hip, Page has no intention of slowing down.

More photo projects for aid organisations are on the agenda, he says.

The English photographer, who lives in Australia, says he has a real soft spot for Cambodia and is thinking of buying a house in this country.

“I’d rather cark it here than on a freeway in New South Wales or Queensland,” he says.

An opening party for Land is Life will be held at 6pm today at Meta House, #38 Sothearos Boulevard.

The exhibition will be on display at Meta House until January 24.

To contact the reporter on this story: Laura Walters at ppp.lifestyle@gmail.com

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