While the Angkor Photo Festival, which finishes in Siem Reap tomorrow, is predominantly international, the Festival PhotoPhnomPenh has turned the lens more on home-grown photographers.
Eight Cambodian and 16 international photographers will have their work flaunted on large projector screens scattered across 20 locations in Phnom Penh from November 26 to December 2. The festival was organised by the Institut Français du Cambodge, and while there is no dominant theme to the exhibitions, there is a heavy presence of Cambodian culture.
“I am very excited about what’s happening in photography today,” festival founder and director Christian Caujolle said.
“Something has happened to photography in the generation growing up after Pol Pot. They want to build the country up and express certain things. I think something is happening to the cultural theme of Cambodia and I am happy to do the festival at a moment like this.”
This year, the festival boasts the largest amount of Cambodian photographers in its short history.
“A special characteristic of this year’s festival is that we will have eight Cambodian photographers – seven who will be exhibited for the first time. That’s a lot,” said Caujolle.
“In 2008 it was difficult to find four photographers to exhibit; this year I had to reject about 20.”
Six of the Khmer photographers are students of Philong Sovan, a photographer who has had his work exhibited both in the Kingdom and abroad, and now leads a free photography class at the Institut Francais’ Studio Image department.
“It will be much better this year because we have more Cambodians,” he said.
“I want to see even more Cambodians involved in photography. We have lots of opportunity here, but we don’t know how long that will last. The photo festival is designed to inspire people and increase the knowledge of photography among Cambodians.”
A particularly inspiring part of the festival is the six boats that will cruise down the Tonle Sap each night, projecting photographs from the exhibitions. Caujolle describes the flotilla as “magical.”
“The visual effect of the boats and the reflections of the city are totally spectacular and poetic,” he said.
“The boats are also a way of showing photographs to people who don’t know about the festival, but who are at the riverside. It gives them access to enjoy something special. The music is also going to be important.”
Clarinet player Louis Sclavis and Cambodian musicians will set the tune at selected exhibition locations.
“In Europe you would probably pay about 40 euro (US$54) to see an exhibition like this, but here it’s free,” Sovan said.
For 17-year-old photographer Preung Sokun Osakphea, the festival is all about making photography more appealing to Cambodians.
Preung Sokun Osakphea is one of Sovan’s six students, and the festival is her official debut.
“In Cambodia, photography is not really seen as a business and it is low as an art form. But maybe in a few years photography could create many opportunities for Cambodians.”
She said she wants the show to encourage people to pick up a camera and discover the art form for themselves.
“I see so much potential and so many people who want to use photography. There are kids who are 13 years old and really interested in photography, but they just don’t know how to start.
“These are not just photos you are taking. When you see photos and look at them and observe them properly, you see the stories that come out of the photos. You see what the photo is really trying to say. So taking photos is just another way to tell a person a story.”
Each individual photo exhibition focuses on a theme, such as identity, time, culture, tradition and life in the city and villages.
“The most important artists are the ones who are deeply local and transform that local thing to something universal,” Caujolle said.
Preung Sokun Osakphea wants people to be challenged by her photo exhibition, and see everyday things in life in a different light.
“I want people to see things from different angles and perspectives; photographs can impact human emotions and feelings in different ways,” she said.
The festival will also feature collaborative presentations from Cambodian children, the best front pages of The Phnom Penh Post, and a tribute to Cambodian cinema of the 1960s.