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The changing face of the Greater Mekong Sub-region

The changing face of the Greater Mekong Sub-region

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Photographer Jerome Ming captures the fast-paced transformation of the Mekong River and its environs in his upcoming exhibition ‘River States’

Tonle Sap lake, 2007. ©Jerome Ming

The mighty Mekong River, which flows through China, Myanmar, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, is currently in a state of incredible change and development. Damming, building construction, dredging and the movement of people have all transformed the face of what is called the Greater Mekong Sub-region, affecting millions of people.

It is this transformation that photographer Jerome Ming has attempted to capture in the upcoming photographic exhibition "River States".

"My idea for ‘River States' was to make visual connections with the Mekong River as the thread," said Ming. "The project is not about the river itself. The Mekong River and its environs are changing at such a pace and the issues of concern are wide-ranging, yet they are all somehow connected. These connections hold interest for me and are what I have attempted to extract visually."

Ming began his photography project in 2006, in cooperation with Institut de Recherche Sur L'Asie Du Sud-Est Contemporaine (IRASEC), a research centre of the French Foreign Ministry, which works with academics in all fields to study the social, political, economic and environmental developments that affect Southeast Asia.

Challenging task

In a region as diverse as Southeast Asia, documenting the changes, connections and issues that affect the six nations on the Mekong River was no easy task, particularly with camera in hand.

"Getting information or photographing in certain areas always requires a certain approach, whether it is through bureaucratic channels or at a grassroots level. It's a matter of humanistic communications and an understanding of situations presented before you," said Ming. "In the process, it was also important to make oneself as transparent as possible. The act of taking photographs is always an intrusion."

The mekong river [is] changing ... and issues of concern are wide-ranging.

The two-year project will culminate in the exhibition of 21 poster-sized images of Ming's work, as well as two publications in English and French, which will include additional photographs and essays by a broad range of academics on the changes, consequences, and cultural and human heritages that affect the Greater Mekong Sub-region.

The photographic exhibition will make its debut in Phnom Penh before making its way through Ho Chi Minh City and Vientiane, and ending in Bangkok.

Phnom Penh was chosen for the debut of the project to complement IRASEC's  launch of National Monographs on Contemporary Cambodia, a publication that aims to give a global comprehension of the Cambodian realities today.

All photographs will be displayed outdoors along the fences and walls surrounding the French development agency AFD, and will be on display for one month.

"For Phnom Penh and the other cities the exhibition will travel to, having the exhibition placed in a gallery space, even if the interior space is open to the public, would exclude a great number of people," Ming said. "Even if it is a passing glance from the sidewalk, this sort of interaction is important to the larger discourse."

He added: "The point is that a greater variety of the public will see the photographs. They are also probably the audience immediately affected by the transformations in one way or another."

The "River States" will open with a cocktail reception at AFD Tuesday and will run for one month.

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