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Grace Baey examined the relationship between a man and a transgender woman. Grace Baey

Pushed outside the comfort zone at photo festival

The 11th Angkor Photo Festival was the highlight of Grace Baey’s year.Baey – who only started taking photography seriously this year when she began documenting her ageing grandmother – was one of 28 photographers that took part in the festival’s week-long workshops that wrapped up last weekend.

“I don’t think I’ve found the words to express how special it was for me,” the 29-year-old Singaporean said. Suffice to say, it was the best thing that happened this year.”

Workshop participants came from all corners of Asia, including Cambodia, Bangladesh, India, Iran, Russia, China and South Korea.

Each chose a specific project to work on for the week and were mentored by the workshop facilitator and six international tutors, including two Magnum photographers and one from photo agency Panos.

Baey took on a challenging assignment for the workshop – to tell the story of Mong and Ponleak and the difficulties of a relationship between a man and a transgender woman.

She had high praise for the tutors who invested significant time and effort into pushing the participants in their photography.

“They asked difficult questions, probed our intentions and taught me a different way of seeing. I pushed boundaries that I’ve never crossed before.

“Because I was working on a story about an LGBT couple and tensions in their relationship, I needed to get really up close and personal.

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Vong Sopheak’s project focused on married couples. Vong Sopheak

“I also learned that you have to be willing to be vulnerable if you want people to open up to you.

“I spent a lot of time with the couple, and soon I was able to make very intimate pictures. I don’t think I’d have done so if I hadn’t pushed myself to go beyond my comfort zone.

“The experience has taught me to learn to take more risks.”

Vong Sopheak from Kandal was inspired by Cambodian weddings and the white thread used in ceremonies.

The 22-year-old used this thread to bind couples together and examine the many issues and emotions they face during married life.

Sopheak, who has been working as a commercial and documentary photographer for two years while also studying fine art and design, said it was the second time he had applied to attend the festival.

“I start to know myself more, so I believe the photo festival really pushed me,” he said.

Chandan Khanna, a 26-year-old photojournalist from India, agreed it was a valuable experience and a great platform to better explore photography while meeting photographers from around the world.

“Finishing a story in a place whose culture, language and people were all new for me was a challenging and exciting experience,” he said.

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Workshop participants sit down to discuss their projects. Irene Yap

“The valuable lessons I received at the workshop have inspired me to take a newer perspective and a fresh approach to my ongoing practices.”

Angkor Photo Festival Asia coordinator Jessica Lim said organisers had noticed a marked increase in the quality of portfolios submitted.

“This has made the selection process more challenging, but it is a happy problem to have,” she said.

The festival has evolved since its formation 11 years ago, but Lim said the aim was not to grow in size but to improve the experience for attendees.

“We have evolved in the same way the photography has evolved, to take into account new forms of photographic practices in light of technological advances.

“For instance, this year we had a panel discussion on how photographers can introduce multimedia and social media into the way they work.”

The event might be over for 2015 but, for the organisers, work continues. They are busy collecting audience and participant feedback to help improve next year’s event.

And planning for the 2016 festival is already under way.

Post Weekend is a proud media partner of the Angkor Photo Festival.

Sam Walker

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