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Wall of fame for life on rails


A family awaits eviction in Beoung Kak Village 3 in this photo from the exhibition called Life Along the Rails.
A teenager and baby brother at Beoung Kak Village 2 in Phnom Penh.
A large fire in March this year devastated swathes of housing along the rails in Boeung Kak communities number 104 and 105. Those who previously had little lost everything in the devastation.

Photos by: Conor Wall

TOGETHER with local urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (Sugar Palm Association), photographer Conor Wall will showcase a disappearing lifestyle from along the Kingdom’s railways in an exhibition opening next Thursday in Phnom Penh.

Although he started as an electronic engineer in Ireland, Wall has had somewhat of a career change and has been working as a freelance photographer in Cambodia for the past three years and living here for five.

Without even realizing he was in love with photography, 31-year-old Wall managed to capture natural moments in everyday life which captivated him.

More than two years ago, Wall started walking along the rails next to Boeung Kak Lake taking photos. He printed them for local residents and went back again and again shooting and giving out prints. “Unfortunately, a lot of people I met there then are no longer living there,” said Wall.

One visa extension in Cambodia led to another and yet more. Wall is now on his 12th extension. “I always miss the places I have been and want to come back again and again to see the changes,” he said.

Wall began his life here by teaching English in Phnom Penh and then took his “sexy” 100cc motorbike all over the country meeting people, taking photos, and having adventures as his interest in photography grew. “Most of all I loved the Khmer people and their laid-back lifestyle,” he said.

Wall has thoroughly enjoyed every moment of his ‘Life Along the Rails’ ride. “I would like to thank the local people for their participation and compassion, love, and generosity,” he said.

The images for this exhibition have been collected from various locations throughout the country over the past two years. The project aims to show viewers the unique way of life of communities living along the railways and to document vanishing ways of living and the impact of progress on people.

Those who remain will face a new reality of faster, more regular trains where the tracks will no longer be used as public space. “I hope that people both Khmer and foreign living here realise that there is a price to pay for development,” said Wall. “And I hope the people who are affected by this railway development are dealt with fairly by the relevant authorities when it comes to resettlement and compensation.”

Working with partners and communities, STT has since 2009 surveyed and mapped railway communities and also monitored the developments as part of Our City architecture and urban design festival.

Life Along the Rails shows photos from a large fire in communities 104 and 105 in March this year. To complete the series, he needed to return for more recent shots. The exhibition also features rural railway pictures from Battambang.

STT organized the exhibition venue and helped generate publicity for the event.

Twenty-one photos by Conor Wall will be shown along with Anna Katharina Schelidegger’s video footage from communities living along the rails at Gasolina, #57, Street 57, Phnom Penh from September 16 to 30.

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