NHORN Rim, 41, cuts a lonely figure as she strolls along Ochheuteal Beach. Unlike the droves of tourists hoping to catch the perfect sunset shot, she does not possess a compact digital camera. Instead she lumps around a battered camera which cost her $350 several years ago. It is the tool of her trade.
Despite having no formal photographic training, Nhorn Rim decided to become one of the many Khmer photographers who work the beach.
“I didn’t go to school but taught myself,” she says. “I didn’t have a job and didn’t know what else to do.”
Still working in film, Nhorn Rim charges 2,000 riel for each photograph she takes, developing them in a shop close to the market. It costs 350 riel for each print she develops.
She never takes photographs of any foreign tourists, unless they have a Khmer wife.
“I take photographs for tourists coming from the countryside, from Phnom Penh and for some people living around here too,” she says.
Although she works all day all year round, her income is not regular.
“Some days I may take 100 photographs, other days I won’t take any,” she says. In the wet season business is particularly slack, but public holidays and weekends make up for it.
Although she accepts that the beachfront is much improved from when she first started to ply her trade, Nhorn Rim claims this has not led to any improvement in business.
“The beach has changed a lot,” she says. “They moved the stalls back from the front about a year ago. The beach looks better than before, but visitors claim that it is more expensive. They don’t take as many photographs as they did two or three years ago.”
She also feels there are too many photographers on the beach, although she cannot complain too much about competition.
“My husband is also a photographer,” she laughs. “He is working further along the beach. Sometimes we swap shifts.”
In the future, Nhorn Rim hopes to open a stall at the market.
“It is better than being a photographer here,” she says. For the moment she has no choice but to walk the sands of Sihanoukville hoping to find tourists who want to take back a reminder of their day by the sea.
“If we don’t come we have nothing to eat,” she says. “I earn for my children.”
INTERPRETER: RANN REUY