Back in January 2012 – after beginning a three-year job on a food security project in the remote northeastern province of Ratanakkiri – Belgian bio-engineer Cédric Delannoy found he didn’t have a lot to do in his spare time, so he started taking photos.
The result of the three-year side project – a soulful series of about 30 black-and-white images focusing on the daily lives of ethnic minority villagers – is set to go on display at the Bophana Centre on Wednesday.
Delannoy, who got his first camera when he was 10 years old but still considers photography a hobby, said the main objective of the exhibition was to show people what the province and the people who live there were like.
“A lot of people – even long-term expats – never get up there,” he said.
Delannoy was working on an EU-funded project called Annâdya, which aimed to improve food security in 63 minority villages in five districts through a wide variety of measures, such as building fish ponds, gardens and gravity-fed water towers.
Visiting each village several times, he became a familiar sight and started to be ignored by the normally shy villagers, which helped his objective of taking unposed and natural photos of daily life.
“They obviously knew I was there – I’m white, so they could see me coming – but the photos are really spontaneous,” he said.
Many outsiders, Delannoy said, were under the impression the area was lushly forested, when most of the trees had been cleared for rubber plantations.
And the traditional culture was disappearing too – few members of the ethic minority groups still wore their traditional clothes, and traditionally built houses were a rarity.
“The life can be hard in the villages,” he said. “The young people really want to improve their lives, and the only way they can see is to move to the city.
“In a few years, I can see the culture disappearing completely.”
Cédric Delannoy’s Ratanakkiri photo exhibition opens at 6:30pm on Wednesday, June 3, and runs until June 16 at the Bophana Centre, #64 Street 200. The opening will feature the screening of a one-hour documentary about the Annâdya project.