Psychedelic cows and a film about life without proper toilets are two of the works on show in a new multi-media exhibition called Seedlings, which opens at Hotel 1961 tomorrow.
Run by the Ponheary Ly Foundation and Global Citizen Media, the exhibition showcases the photographic and video work of the foundation’s students who spent a year learning how to write, film and edit short documentaries.
“It’s a culmination of one year of students learning about visual storytelling,” says teacher and documentary film-maker Diana Gross, who founded the Global Citizen Media project which teaches digital media classes at Ponheary Ly Foundation. “It’s going to be photographic series, videos, some websites that they created with blogs and really just getting them to share their voices.”
At the heart of the project, says Ponheary Ly Foundation president Lori Carlson, is a desire to give the students, most from poor rural areas, the confidence to express themselves, and also to examine their environment and consider change.
“In the very beginning there were so many conversations about, ‘who are you?’ and every conversation ended with, ‘I’m poor’,” says Carlson. “It took a really long time to establish that this is your situation – it’s not a description of you. So this process of bringing awareness to things and being their own spokesperson is really important.”
The exhibition comprises several photographic series and five short documentary films shot by fifteen students aged 14 to 18. The films deal with topics ranging from the struggle of girls trying to go to school in Preah Vihear province, to what life is like in a village without toilets.
Gross says the process is to sit down with the students and ask them what they want to say to the world. The students started brainstorming ideas and finally came up with the idea of toilets and the fact that most people in their villages don’t have them.
She adds, “Then they started researching it on the internet. This is where it becomes about raising awareness because it puts a face on the 60 or 80 per cent of people in the countryside who don’t have a toilet.”
The photographs include a series documenting the gradual construction of a house, and another series depicting cows.
“You put a camera in their hands and see what they come back with,” says Gross. “One student came back with all animals, to which I initially thought maybe he just shot whatever was near him because he didn’t have enough time. But he said no, he really likes the animals. It turns out he loves cows because they do all the hard work, they pull the ploughs, and they won’t eat other animals.”
Gross says the student, Mov Sopheap, started playing around in Photoshop, making adjustments and exploring the colour-wheel. The result was Warhol-esque, pop-art bovines in psychedelic hues.
She says Mov Sopheap then discovered the work of Andy Warhol during his internet searches and was amazed, “that somebody became famous doing something that he just did himself.”
The Ponheary Ly Foundation, together with Global Citizen Media, started the student media program in 2012.
Last year one of the documentaries it produced, I Am One, won first place and a $10,000 grant in the 2012 Goodtube Film Competition. Goodtube, an extension of Profiles in Caring, a US-based television show, is a video sharing web site which features only videos from volunteers and nonprofit organisations wanting to promote their causes.
Seedlings opens on Saturday June 29 at Hotel 1961 at 7pm, and runs until August 28.