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At Angkor Photo Fest, fledgling photographers find their footing

Ma Martel sought to mix aspects of Cambodian and Western wedding photography. Ma martel
Ma Martel sought to mix aspects of Cambodian and Western wedding photography. Ma martel

At Angkor Photo Fest, fledgling photographers find their footing

Siem Reap-born Ma Martel fell into photography after a trip to Europe two years ago when he borrowed a friend’s camera. He had already staked out a diverse career path, from French-language tour guide to film location scout. Now, he’s giving “photographer” a try.

“I decided that as soon as I got back to Cambodia, that I would buy a camera and shoot everything I saw,” Martel says. Martel, 32, is one of two Cambodian photographers to take part in the Angkor Photo Festival’s tuition-free workshops, which this week drew 30 budding photographers from across Asia. This year saw a record number of applications and a surge in female photographers; it was the first time that the women outnumbered the men.

“The tuition-free workshops are an intense and challenging experience for participants, many of whom [are] pushed out of their comfort zone by their tutors,” says Jessica Lim, the workshop coordinator.

The workshops, which have accompanied the festival since its inception, provide participants with professional tutors and challenge them to complete a themed assignment throughout the course of the week. Their completed projects will be screened tomorrow night at the festival’s closing ceremony.

Martel’s project captures the small moments at a traditional Cambodian wedding. “I want to mix the styles of Cambodian and Western wedding photography to create something new,” he explains.

Ry Roun, who is just 22 years old, became interested in photography through the Anjali Photo Workshops, which engage the children of Siem Reap NGO Anjali House with photography by sending them home with a camera.

Roun’s workshop project focuses on the poverty he sees in Siem Reap province. “I like to go to the slums,” he says. “I grew up in a poor area and used to experience that myself. My family and I could only afford to eat rice and soy sauce.”

Ry Roun, who grew up in poverty, now turns his lens on it. Ry roun
Ry Roun, who grew up in poverty, now turns his lens on it. Ry roun

He says he has found these workshops invaluable. “My tutor, Sohrab Hura, advised me to get physically lower when I’m capturing poverty, as poverty can always be found at a lower level,” Roun explains.“Some people don’t know the real Cambodia; I want to show the whole world that this is what I see.”

Roun wants to pursue opportunities in written journalism in addition to photography. He already seems to have a knack for it. “A beggar in Old Market rejected me [when I asked to take her photo], so I sat and spoke to her about what I’m doing,” he says. “She eventually agreed to be photographed. The workshops have really helped with my confidence and doing things like this.”

This year’s Angkor Photo Festival has already been more inclusive and diverse than those before it: Events are set up in an open space, the Festival Zone, rather than the lobbies of expensive hotels, and presentations of work are accompanied by Khmer translation.

The workshops ensure that photographers like Roun and Martel get the space to present their work, too.

A projection of photographs from the workshops will be shown tonight at the Festival Zone. Post Weekend is a media partner for the 12th edition of the Angkor Photo Festival, which runs from December 3 through December 10 in Siem Reap. For more details about exhibitions and activities, see angkor-photo.com.

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