MY PHNOM PENH: Samual James

Better known as ‘Sam Jam’, Samual James is a professional editorial and commercial photographer who also owns the city’s first skate shop at Wat Botum.
Better known as ‘Sam Jam’, Samual James is a professional editorial and commercial photographer who also owns the city’s first skate shop at Wat Botum.

MY PHNOM PENH: Samual James

The Skateshop

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When I came to Phnom Penh almost five years ago, it was a conscious step away from skateboarding. I’ve been skateboarding my whole life, skated competitively, been sponsored blah blah.

I came here to focus on editorial photography. But within the first couple of weeks of being here I met Cambodia’s very first skateboarder, Peterson Khim, who was having a hard time getting new boards.

I started bringing back gear whenever I’d visit Bangkok or Ho Chi Minh and we ended up having a little shop in our loungeroom.

The kids would ask when we were going to start an actual shop and saying they wanted to work there and be a part of it and help build it.

So then we bit the bullet and found a decent location at Wat Botum, renovated it and started the shop in 2013.

The whole premise of the shop is that it would help foster the scene. It was never about making money. It was all about giving skaters control and helping build the scene.

Photography studio

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I was super lucky with my studio. It had actually been renovated already by another photographer and friend named Dylan Maddux. He was here for a few years before going back to the States. It’s my house and studio. It’s a nice big area with a big open kitchen where the makeup artists usually set up.

And then a good-sized living area that’s big enough for a studio so I can cover most things.

Having such a big space is one of the biggest advantages. I’ve got a few different coloured backgrounds, a lighting setup and a nice big screen that I can shoot tethered to so you can see how things are going as we’re shooting.

Backyard Cafe

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I’ve been very lucky to have shot photos of a lot of food at a lot of restaurants in Phnom Penh, whether it’s shooting their menus or for magazines. I work with SEA Globe and Discover Cambodia, and Discover features a lot of restaurants.

Some of my favourites are Chinese House, Black Bambu and The Common Tiger. But I also prefer a plant-based diet, and that rules out a lot of places, so I find myself at
Backyard Cafe a lot. It’s one of my favourite places to eat. Their abundance bowl is basically my go-to dish.

It’s really awesome and filling – there’s so much macro-goodness in there. Plus there’s quite a few other things, like the backyard beets salad. Every meal is really solid and the delicious raw desserts are guilt-free.

Wat Botum Park

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One of my favourite rituals in the late afternoon is to chill at Wat Botum Park, just outside the shop, where we have a small strip where we’re allowed to skate.

A lot of skaters go there and it’s increasing all the time as the scene’s growing. Sometimes there’s 30 or 40 kids there. Even if I’m not skating or shooting, I like just sitting there and watching the guys skate the little ledge we built.

And just observing the park life that’s going on. There’s heaps of monks that walk through that park between where they study and where they stay, and the aerobics are always entertaining.

It’s also right near all the Khmer noodle restaurants, where there’s a ton of people as well. It’s a great place for Cambodian park life with skating as well.

O’Russey Market

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Just yesterday I took out a tour group of Norwegian student photographers to a few places. I wouldn’t really classify myself as a street photographer or a tour leader but I love it, as most photographers do.

Some of my favourite places to go and shoot are the alleyways near O’Russey. I took them to a few spots, but through O’Russey Market … there’s no other market quite like it and the group really enjoyed it.

It’s purely local, you’ll be lucky to see one or two foreigners, there’s always something interesting going on inside the market and outside, there’s also some really nice alleyways nearby.

It’s always pretty interesting and easy to find some nice photographic opportunities. After five years here, and that being one of the areas I lived first, there’s not that much change that’s visible, which is kind of nice where everywhere else is new, new, new.


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