Documentary photographer Charles Fox has lived and worked in Phnom Penh for the better part of a decade. Two years ago he started a blog, FoundCambodia, with regular posts of found Cambodian photographs. His most recent project focuses on UXO-salvage divers. Fox spoke with Audrey Wilson this week about his favourite Cambodian photography projects
The first photographer that jumps to mind is Lim Sokchanlina. He classifies himself as a visual artist, not just a photographer. I met him through a friend of a friend about a year ago. He showed me a project about National Road 5 – how they’ve cut the road in half, extended the road and now they’re building it back again. It was in Singapore recently. He’s been documenting that for about a year, just doing landscapes of these houses. He must have about 60 or 70 pictures. What’s great about it is that every single image is composed in the same framing. It’s almost like a still life. People are actively living in the house, repairing the house. Life just continued. It’s just a very brief moment in time, and very Cambodian – to cut your house in half and keep going.
Pictured: Lim Sokchanlina, National Road Number 5, 2015.
I love his project, it’s called Alive. So, like my project, it’s the idea of memory in old photographs and objects. And he just does it so well. But what’s so interesting about it is that it is so personal. It is about his family, his items – essentially his family narrative. A lot of things his family had saved, or buried and hidden – I found the same thing with my Found project, this idea of actually burying things. This series is about that – buried and archived items that his family had kept. I think his parents recovered them after the war. It’s completely personal, a totally strong narrative with an end. The concept of the project was about his family and his story, which is incredible. And it’s been exhibited everywhere. Pictured: image from Alive series, produced with Pip Kelly, 2014.
He’s a wire photographer for Reuters, and by far my favourite wire photographer in Cambodia. He’s around 32. He started off with the Cambodia Daily before he was picked up by them. In Cambodia, some things get played out over and over again – for example, photographing Tuol Sleng, or the rice harvest. How do you make that interesting or original when it’s been photographed so many times? Somehow he manages to do that. He brings a different perspective. I suppose if you just look at the wire every now and then, it looks great. If you’ve been watching it for a long time, it gets a bit played out. There’s one picture he has of authorities burning a stash of confiscated drugs, and he shot through the haze. I don’t think you can even see the drugs being burned, but you can see the haze. That’s a wire photographer’s job – documenting daily news, life and images. And he does it in such an interesting way. Photo supplied.
The Found project is continually growing, it doesn’t stop. It’s always been a wider body of work – it marks cultural and social shifts, and how photography in Cambodia has documented those shifts. It doesn’t matter how many years we’re here as photographers or journalists, it’s these smaller narratives that I find so interesting. That’s what the Found project sort of does. It was originally just my own curiosity. I started posting, and then everyone else seemed really curious as well. I have 150 images on the website – there must be another 300 at home. I first found them through friends, even a corner store near my house. More recently, I started working with a fixer. My favourite spots to go are the White Building and Boeung Kak lake. The stories that come out of these places are incredible.
Pictured: Charles Fox/FoundCambodia.
Vandy Rattana is just an exceptional photographer. He was really prolific in the early 2000s – his work from Preah Vihear is amazing. The one that really resonates with me is his Bomb Ponds project. Again, it’s landscapes of ponds which are formed by craters created by the American bombing of Cambodia. You could look at them, and it would be an innocuous set of pictures about ponds. But if you know the back story, the relevance to it, it’s different. I really like the relationship between the caption and the imagery that makes it such a strong piece. It’s just an interesting way to document something that’s quite still life, that still has that journalistic relevance today. It’s just a project I really like. Because of my interest in legacy – legacy of conflict is a lot of what my work is based around – this project really resonates with me. Pictured: Vandy Rattana, Takeo, 2009. Digital C-Print. 91x111cm. Courtesy the artist and Sa Sa Bassac.