Working on water

Working on water

A new exhibition at FCC removed one expat photographer from his professional comfort zone and took him to the Cambodian coast

Walker’s photographs attempt to shed light on Cambodia’s fishing communities, with a particular focus on the role of women in the fishing industry. Photo by: KENNETH INGRAM

COASTAL fishing communities of Cambodia are the focal point of a month-long exhibition titled Life on the Edge by British photographer Dylan Walker, opening today, Friday July 1, at the FCC in Phnom Penh.

Visiting six different towns and villages on the south coast last February, including Kep and Sihanoukville, Walker, 29, presents 30 of his best photos with detailed captions that largely centre on the importance of women in the fishing industry of Cambodia.

“It’s a documentary exhibition,” explains Walker, while seated at the FCC, sorting through 4x6 photos of his work, deciding where the larger 75x55 images will be hung.

“[The photos] give an idea of what it’s like to be in a fishing village: the scenery, the people, the activities and the environment that it encompasses and the idea of gender roles,” he adds.

The exhibition is funded by the Regional Fisheries Livelihoods Program for South and Southeast Asia (RFLP), a four-year initiative that began in 2009, established by the Kingdom of Spain in partnership with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, to improve small-scale fishing communities and practices in the region.

Granted a daily fee for a period of 10 days, Walker, who has formal training in photography and a university degree in geography, says the RFLP welcomed his idea of capturing images of women in the communities while also asking him to collect a variety of more general photos.

Aided by his five-year-old Canon 30D camera, the native of Leicester, UK, also captured photos depicting themes of safety, such as lifejackets and lights used for night-time fishing, as well as examples of alternative livelihoods.

Although women were the main focus of his latest work, Walker says he became aware of other important topics while visiting the coastal communities with a translator.

“One of the big things threatening their livelihood is illegal fishing and trawling,” he remembers as a common concern that the people shared with him.

“Trawling basically rips up the ocean floor and takes decades, if not centuries, to grow back.” He also learned that each town has a leader that is responsible for micro-financing and fostering contacts with NGOs, including one who is female.

“She has been a leader in her community for eight years,” recalls Walker. “I asked her if she knew of any other female leaders and she said no.”

Walker, who also works in fashion photography, says the assignment was a learning experience for him, particularly with lighting, as some of his photos are overexposed.

When asked what is missing from the exhibition, he says that capturing images that accurately portray the family unit was most problematic.

“We have women, we have men, we have children, we have women with children, but we don’t have the family working together and the reason for that is they don’t work together, at least not at the same time.”

Since arriving in Cambodia eight months ago following a one-month visit in 2008, Walker has remained active in the community, teaching photography once a week to about 30 students at Limkokwing University in Phnom Penh.

“Some of the youngsters here, especially the next generation, they are really going to step [photography] up a level,” he says. “I think it’s a really good scene they have here, and I do feel [as an expat] it should be a Cambodian doing this [exhibition work].”

He is also the one-man-show behind the Cambodian Journal of Photography, an online forum that remains a work in progress, established by Walker as a way for local photographers to come together and share their photos.

The opening at FCC coincides with a simultaneous unveiling of Walker’s work whereby 12 duplicates of his photos will be displayed at a celebration for National Fish Day on July 1 in Svay Rieng. His next objective is to capture youth culture in Cambodia, including more portraits, his preferred subjects, in addition to more work in fashion photography.

Walker’s photographs attempt to shed light on Cambodia’s fishing communities, with a particular focus on the role of women in the fishing industry. KENNETH INGRAM