The French embassy in Phnom Penh is holding an outdoor exhibition of aerial and satellite imagery to commemorate the 70th anniversary of Cambodia’s independence.

Curated by the Institute of Research and Development (IRD) the show features a collection of 30 photographs that chronicle Cambodia’s dramatic transformation from the 1950s to the present

The photos show the Kingdom’s evolving landscape and offer a unique vantage point on Cambodia’s development through the decades.

The exhibition is free to view, on the outside of the walls of the embassy, on Monivong Boulevard in Phnom Penh.

“For nearly two decades, the IRD has been at the forefront of fostering scholarly and institutional bonds with Cambodia’s leading entities,” said an embassy press release.

The institute’s mission is to spearhead sustainable development solutions to pressing global challenges such as climate change and food security through innovative technology.

The release explained how the evolution of aerial imaging – from the pioneering airborne photos of the 1950s to today’s advanced satellite capabilities – underscores the leaps in technological progress.

“Since the first airborne images were taken in the 1950s, and then the first images from observation satellites in the 1980s, technologies have evolved enormously, with access today to a vast number of very high-resolution images,” the statement said.

These tools have been crucial for the Khmer Earth Observation Laboratory (KHEOBS), a 2022 initiative by the IRD and the Institute of Technology of Cambodia (ITC), supported by the French government, to boost local expertise in the field.

“KHEOBS is training engineers and researchers, while developing projects which use innovative Earth observation tools, both within Cambodia and at a regional level. The projects illustrate the quality of our scientific cooperation: few institutions in Cambodia have access to these technologies,” said French ambassador Jacques Pellet.

Early French forays into aerial photography by the IGNFI laid the groundwork for comprehensive mapping.

Between 1952 and 1954, the IGNFI took some 11,000 shots within the Kingdom, enabling a large part of the territory to be mapped.

The current “Khmer Aerial Photographic Archive” (KAPA) project aims to digitise these invaluable snapshots of the past, creating an open-access treasure trove for research and education. It represents an exceptional archive that plunges us back into 70 years of images of urban and rural landscapes.

Complementing this archival wealth are modern methodologies developed by the IRD. Used for analysing contemporary satellite data, they provide insights into urban and environmental dynamics.

Drone technology further enhances the precision and frequency of image capture, opening new horizons for environmental monitoring and soil studies.

“Our ability to process large volumes of data means that these images can be used to monitor environmental and hydrological dynamics, and to set up warning systems,” added the release.

The IRD has been a key partner in global and French overseas development for nearly eight decades, and remains dedicated to fostering equitable international collaborations.

In Cambodia, the IRD has been a pivotal force for twenty years, with a focus on research advancement and bolstering local expertise to address sustainable development challenges, amidst rapid economic shifts and climate change impacts.

Engaging with Cambodian educational and governmental institutions, the IRD emphasises knowledge transfer, facilitates advanced training for students and aids in expanding scientific networks, both locally and internationally.

The exhibition is just one of the embassy’s cultural contributions to honouring 70 years of Cambodian independence, with a suite of forums and film screenings also underway at the French Institute of Cambodia, and a separate exhibition at the SOSORO Museum.

Through these lenses – both literal and metaphorical – the embassy is not only celebrating the past, but paving the way for a future of continued collaboration and discovery.