Dreams are the focus of an exhibition of photography, drawings and a wishing tree opening at New Leaf Book Café this evening.
The work is by students of Anjali House, who have spent the last six weeks working with Sophie Kashi, a British photographer and co-founder of Human Camera, a social enterprise that emphasises the therapeutic power of photography.
The exhibition features photographs by an older group of 13 students from Anjali, many of whom have studied in workshops at the Angkor Photo Festival.
For the younger students, Kashi relied on art-based approaches and encouraged them to create pictures of their dream homes.
The ‘wishing tree’ is based on the idea behind postsecret.com, a website that allows the world to share secrets anonymously, and encourages people to write their dreams on postcards that they can create or decorate as they choose, and put them together with the dreams that will be put there by the children themselves.
“I’ve done this before with communities in Nottingham,” said Kashi, who completed her Masters in photography there.
“We used a wishing tree as part of our work with a local festival, and everyone really enjoyed it, adults and children alike. It draws everyone in to a sense of shared community.”
Kashi has been using her knowledge and experience to guide students on the technical aspects of using a camera, and trying to build up their visual literacy – the ability to see the hidden meaning behind an image.
She says the learning process has been very much two ways, thanks to the highly visual medium in which she and the students have been working.
“It’s been a huge learning curve for me. I’m getting insights into the lives of people that I wouldn’t otherwise get. I’m finding out about their everyday lives at home, what their bedrooms look like, what they eat, what pets they have, and who their friends are.”
The students themselves will be selecting which photos go on display and captioning them, which for Kashi is is a fundamental part of the process.
“It’s not just about learning how to use a camera, but also about how to see things differently, and how to see art in a different way too.
“With an exhibition like Dreams, the captions are what matters most for the audience. Without them, it’s completely subjective and you’re not going to get an idea of what the dream is about.”
Kashi’s interest in photography lies not only in its aesthetic appeal, but also in its power to heal. She was drawn to photo therapy last year as a solution to some problems of her own.
“I was having a bad time last year when I started to look into the idea of art therapy,” she said. “I applied it to myself, and started to go out, take photos, develop them, and then reflect on them.
“I learned how powerful it can be to use art as a way of self-expression, reflection and basically to make yourself feel more positive and to look at the world in a different way.”
She says getting the children to talk about their photographs has been the most productive part of the course. “They love talking about their pictures. Much more than they like taking them I think.”
Kashi hopes to start a PhD in art therapy at the University of Roehampton in London next year. For some part of the meantime, she will be staying in Siem Reap as the new communications manager for Anjali House.
The exhibition runs until October 24, when Kashi hopes it will transfer to another gallery in town. Photographs from the exhibition will be available for sale, with proceeds to supporting projects at Anjali House.