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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Social issues explored in new photo exhibition

Social issues explored in new photo exhibition

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A family in Andong prepares lunch on a cement culvert that sits above blackened water and human waste. Photograph: David Belluz/Phnom Penh Post

Forced evictions, landmine victim rehabilitation and art classes in prison are all themes to be explored in a new exhibition opening at Hotel 1961 on March 1. The exhibition, Documenting Cambodia, features images by seven different photographers based in Cambodia.

It is organised by NGOinsider.com, and comprises work by Erika Pineros, Thomas Christofoletti, David Belluz, Sam Jam, Omar Havana, George Nickels, and Meng Kimlong.

“George Nickels is covering landmine victims’ recuperation with The Cambodia Trust,” says NGOinsider.com co-founder Alex Pettiford.

“Then we’ve got Erika covering the Boeung Kak lake evictions in Phnom Penh from last year through to now, people getting kicked out and the demonstrations from that.”

Canadian photographer and documentary film-maker David Belluz is showing photos from the 2006 forced evictions of 1,500 families from Sambok Chab, a riverside settlement in Phnom Penh. The land was sold to a real estate company to develop for commercial purposes.

“They moved everyone to a place called Andong which is a village 25km out,” says Pettiford. “The government just dropped them there. It’s a pretty hideous place by all accounts.”

Belluz, who has also covered the war in Afghanistan, describes conditions in Andong as unbearable initially with no proper drainage, sanitation, electricity or safe water supply. Six years on, conditions have improved somewhat with some roads and housing being built.

“Sadly, hundreds of families still dwell in dilapidated shelters made from plastic sheeting and wood,” he says.

“These families also live in a swamp of human sewage caused by a leaking concrete culvert. The images document the deprivations and poverty these resilient people struggle against every day of their lives.”

Australian photographer Sam Jam is documenting a screen-printing workshop in a Cambodian prison, while Thomas Cristofoletti, whose work has been published in The International Herald Tribune and The Guardian, is covering the effects of evictions in Koh Kong and Kampong Speu’s sugar plantations.

“Many families, after losing their land and their only source of income have been forced to send their children to work in the plantations for less than $2.5 a day,” says Cristofoletti. “It was hard to witness the horrible conditions in which these people were working.”

Omar Havana has covered child labour in Cambodia, and Meng Kimlong’s photos depict life on the rubbish dumps in Siem Reap province.

Meng says; “It’s a mountain of garbage. I have seen many children aged under ten years old working over there, helping their parents collect plastic and things that can be recycled and sold. Most of them do not wear masks or gloves and many suffer from diseases such as respiratory ailments and diarrhea.”

Cambodian-born American photographer Pete Pin is exhibition curator. New York-based Pin was born in Khao-i-Dang refugee camp and raised in California. He was selected as 2011 Fellow at the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund and named an Emerging Talent by Getty Reportage for his work on the Cambodian diaspora.

Pin says Documenting Cambodia appealed because of his links with the country.

“As a Cambodian American documentary photographer working on a long-term project on the Cambodian diaspora in the States, I am very interested in how other photographers are documenting Cambodia," says Pin.

“Cambodia is my existential ‘other half,’ a country that I was born on the outskirts of and have since never been to, and that is very much so overshadowed by my American identity. As a photographer myself, I believe in the power of the medium in highlighting pressing social issues, and am honored to have the opportunity to be involved.”  

Documenting Cambodia will run at Hotel 1961 until April 30, with a second viewing aimed specifically at Khmers over Khmer New Year. 

“We would like to see if we can push to get Khmer people to come,” says Pettiford.

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