Or Serei Romnir, the 19-year-old photographer who took the second-place prize in last year’s Canon PhotoMarathon for his entry in the Life and Shadow category, is now pursuing his dream of going professional at a young age.
“I’ve liked photography since I was 16 years old, when I saw that people took good photos to post on social media,” he says. “It looked amazing and involved a lot of creativity.”
Although Romnir did not formally study photography, he has a certain advantage: his father is a documentary photographer and videographer. “My talent and passion could be from my father,” he says, adding that YouTube videos were also instrumental in helping him to learn key techniques of the craft.
Unsuccessful in his first entry to the PhotoMarathon in 2014, Romnir was able to clinch a prize last year. That also meant that he could attend a photo clinic with the other 2015 category winners in Siem Reap, at which he won another prize – a trip to Japan for this year’s Canon Photo Clinic, with other international winners.
The annual PhotoMarathon, organised by authorised Canon retailer i-Qlick, provides an opportunity for unknown Cambodian photographers to get noticed and take their skills to the next level. The event, which is free to enter, is the country’s largest photography competition, and it is open to all.
Andy Lee, the country director for i-Qlick, says it is astonishing how the culture of photography has blossomed in Cambodia. “This is our sixth year running the Canon PhotoMarathon, and each year, we can expect the quality of submissions to be of higher quality than the previous,” he says.
“Canon remains a market leader globally and in Cambodia largely in part due to the brand’s commitment to the craft of photography.”
“Through this competition, we have unearthed so many hidden talents in Cambodia and given them the confidence to pursue their dreams,” Lee says. “Our attractive prizes and photo clinic in Siem Reap and Japan will challenge young budding Cambodia photographers to push their skills further. We are very proud to be discovering new talents early and nurturing them.”
For Romnir, the draw of the competition was to gain experience and learn from professional photographers. “I was excited to be selected [for the Japanese clinic], and I tried to learn more about those techniques,” he says.
Romnir’s second-place image depicts a boy reading a book in a heavily shadowed stairwell; the shadow cast over the boy, he says, represents the youth’s aspirations, while the stairwell is a metaphor for his future ascent.
Last year’s first-place winner was 18-year-old Deng Mengsreang, who began pursuing his interest at the age of 15. Also an entrant in 2014, Mengsreang took away the grand prize for the topic New Phnom Penh.
“I understood that the new Phnom Penh meant development, so I chose a place that was being developed. I showed what construction at Boeung Kak was like through photographing the concrete drainage pipes awaiting installation,” he says. “I didn’t expect to win – I have never been so surprised in all my life.”
Drawing inspiration from professional photographers he admires, Mengsreang also hopes that in the future he will have his own exhibition. He would like to see increasing numbers of young people getting interested in photography.
“If you want to be a photographer, you don’t need to worry whether [your pictures] are good or bad,” he says. “Just be yourself.”
For Romnir, the contest marks the start of what he hopes will be a flourishing career.
“In the future, I want to be a professional photographer and video documentary-maker. This is my talent and passion,” he says. “I have already made 10 documentaries for my own YouTube channel [Romnir Lens Pro Media], and I plan one day to have my own photography exhibition.”
For now, Romnir continues taking advice from his father as he prepares to enter this year’s contest. And Romnir’s advice to aspiring photographers? “Take your time to look around, find a new angle and make a decision to give photography meaning. Pictures give us messages, so use them effectively.”
The Phnom Penh Post is a media partner of the 2016 Canon PhotoMarathon. This year’s PhotoMarathon will be held on October 9 at Koh Pich. For more details and to register, go to www.facebook.com/iQlickCambodia.