Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - EFEO digs up old snaps for photo festival



EFEO digs up old snaps for photo festival

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The EFEO exhibition includes many photos of daily life. Photo supplied

EFEO digs up old snaps for photo festival

With the 11th Angkor Photo Festival gearing up to showcase the work of 140 emerging and established contemporary photographers from more than 40 countries across Asia and the world, one of the most important exhibitions will feature the work of scholars, artists and devotees who long ago passed through the streets of Siem Reap and the galleries of Angkor. 

A Journey Into 20th Century Cambodia Through EFEO Photographic Archives opens at the Ecole Française d’Extrême Orient on Sunday. It features more than 80 photographs taken by the archaeologists who worked to draw back the veils of mystery surrounding the temples of Angkor and Cambodian culture. 

The focus of the exhibition though is not so much on the temples themselves, but on how the archaeologists and associates of the EFEO recorded their understandings of Cambodia, its people and their culture. 

The black and white images were selected by festival director and curator Francoise Callier, culled from an archive of 26,500 photographs dating back to 1866 that are in the EFEO library.

“I had to go through them all,” said Callier. “You don’t want to miss that image that someone later finds and everyone talks about.”

“It’s absolutely incredible when you see what they did. There is so much buried in the earth there, so many statues and artefacts. The work of finding, understanding and reconstructing it all, it’s like a huge puzzle game.” 

Taken by the pioneering academics and their associates, including Maurice Glaize, George Groslier, Henri Marchal, Jean Commaille, Pier Dieulefils and many more whose names remain unknown, the images show beautifully composed scenes from waterside villages, fishermen, a visit by King Monivong, royal dancers, hunters and villagers, as well as scenes from the temples and the people that worked on taking them apart and putting them back together again. 

“It’s not a surprise that they were so well taken,” notes Dominique Soutif, the director of the EFEO. “Cameras and film were expensive. You made sure to take care of what you were doing.” 

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Monks go about their business at Angkor Wat. Photo supplied

The stories behind many of the images remain as well. One shows a giant bronze statue of Vishnu — now in the National Museum in Phnom Penh. It was “discovered” by a villager who told Marchal, one of the earliest and most important directors of the EFEO who worked in the region for almost 60 years, that he had dreamed of a Buddha at West Mebon.

There is little doubt that he was in fact a looter who had come across more than he could handle.

Another shows Marchal himself at Banteay Srei, the first temple that was taken apart and reconstructed, using a new method called anastylosis, a project he undertook to make up for André Malraux’s looting of the same temple. That method has since been applied to many temples in the park.

“To see the guys working on the temples, it’s quite fascinating,” said Soutif, who is particularly noted for his work on deciphering the inscriptions on the temple walls. “There is so much change, but so much the same. You can recognise a lot from what we see today.” 

While the archive has always been available to the public, the EFEO has been working over the past four months to digitise it so that it can be available online.

“It’s important for us to show our archives and to share them with the world,” said Soutif. “This exhibition is part of that, and I can’t wait to see the result.” 

A Journey Into 20th Century Cambodia Through EFEO Photographic Archives opens at the EFEO on the East River Road on Sunday, December 6, at 6pm. 

Post Weekend is a media partner of the Angkor Photo Festival which runs from December 5 to 12. For more information about exhibitions and activities, check out: angkor-photo.com.

MOST VIEWED

  • Restrictions re-imposed in capital as Covid cases surge

    Amid the ongoing community outbreak of Covid-19, which has shown no sign of subsiding with 750 infections and 10 deaths reported on June 2 alone, the Phnom Penh Municipal Administration has decided to re-impose the suspension of all occupations and business activities deemed as posing high risk of

  • Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville expressway 51% complete

    The construction of the nearly $2 billion Phnom Penh-Sihanoukville Expressway is 51.35 per cent complete and is expected to be finished in 2023, according to Ministry of Public Works and Transport secretary of state Vasim Sorya. Invested in by Cambodian PPSHV Expressway Co Ltd, the first expressway in

  • With herd immunity likely in 2022, is Cambodia ready to reopen for tourism?

    The government aims to inoculate 80 per cent of the target population by June next year, giving it a head start among regional peers to reboot the sector but first, it has to do a few things to up its game A sign on a glass

  • First 7-Eleven store to open mid-June, ambassador says

    Thai retail conglomerate CP All Pcl will open Cambodia’s first 7-Eleven convenience store in mid-June, Cambodian ambassador to Thailand Ouk Sorphorn told The Post on June 1. The Bangkok-listed 7-Eleven franchise operator, the retail arm of Charoen Pokphand Group Co Ltd, granted CP All (Cambodia)

  • US wants 'full access' to Ream Naval Base

    On June 11, the US embassy's Defense Attaché Colonel Marcus M Ferrara visited Ream Nava Base in coordination with Cambodian officials following the recent approval of Prime minister Hun Sen to allay the concerns on Chinese military presence at the base as raised by US Deputy

  • US embassy guard gets Covid despite two doses of Pfizer jab

    The Covid-19 tracking commission on June 4 said a security guard at the US embassy in Phnom Penh had contracted the novel coronavirus, despite having received a second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot two weeks ago. Embassy spokesperson Chad Roedemeier confirmed the SARS-CoV-2 infection to The