Learning how to transform airports into art

The photographers were given complete access to the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports
The photographers were given complete access to the Phnom Penh and Siem Reap airports. ALBAN LÉCUYER

Learning how to transform airports into art

A new exhibition at the French Institute documents the architecture of Cambodia’s two biggest airports

In a new French Institute exhibition supported by Cambodia Airports, 10 student photographers document the architectural spaces, details and textures of Phnom Penh and Siem Reap’s airports, including the under-construction international terminals.

The contributors to Photography, Space and Architecture – members of the institute’s free Studio Images training program for aspiring snappers – were mentored on the project by program instructor Sovan Philong along with French architectural photographer Alban Lécuyer.

Portraits of airport workers in blank space
Portraits of airport workers in blank space. ALBAN LÉCUYER

Cécile Peyronnet, the French Institute’s cultural attaché, said the exhibition was an opportunity to discover artistic and creative works by young photographers who interpreted the architecture through their own sensibility.

“An airport is a very complex site: a city inhabited by nobody, a meeting space where nobody stays and very often a vector for innovative architectural experimentation that nobody even notices,” she said. “There is also this complexity that the artists want to make tangible through their works, which is worth the time to visit the exhibition.”

While security is normally tight around airports, Lécuyer said the students had total access to the facilities’ various sites.

“I think it’s a very rare and exciting opportunity to reach such a sensitive site and to have the opportunity to document it in comfortable conditions,” he said. “This is probably why the exhibition is a precious testimony about an event that remained invisible for the general public.”

Philong said he had some concerns about the project because the students had no experience with architectural photography.

“But after a two-day workshop with Alban Lécuyer at the Phnom Penh airport, I was surprised that all of them had found their own topic and point of view,” he said.

“Most of them came up with a lot of creative ideas. Some images really surprised. For example, the work of Van Sophorn, who focused on the shadows of the buildings’ construction. The works of Oeun Rosnov Omren and Phun Bandit were also really interesting: they worked on the topic of ‘empty spaces’, so they needed to wait and choose the right moment to capture their images.”

The students were not just taught how to document the construction of the new international terminals, Peyronnet said.

“The goal of the workshops on the airports was to acquire not only technical skills in photographing architecture and space, but moreover to help students to develop an eye, an emotion, for tuning architectural photography into art.”

Photography, Space and Architecture opens at the French Institute’s gallery (#218 Street 184) on Wednesday at 6:30pm. The exhibition will run until March 30.

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