Ditch diggers working near Angkor Wat and residents of Andong slum are some of the images featured in an exhibition for Oxfam by British photographer Emma Hardy.
The exhibition, titled Cambodia: Losing Ground, which highlights land-grabbing, has been shown in London, and is now showing in Washington DC until the end of the month.
Hardy was commissioned by Oxfam earlier this year to put together an exhibition in support of the organisation’s land campaign, which calls for global action on land grabs.
“There was an agenda from Oxfam Cambodia to tell the story of land grabs, that is Cambodians being forcibly evicted from their homes and land by the government to make way for developments and land sales for factories etc.” she says. “Oxfam asked me to put together images to help support their lobby against the World Bank and other governments who lend to Cambodia, thus perpetuating the land grab situation.”
Hardy, who has photographed for The New York Times, Vanity Fair and The Telegraph magazine, says she wasn’t actually photographing for an exhibition per se. “When I was travelling through Cambodia I was documenting the people that I met, and trying to illustrate their situations without resorting to pathos or a less dignified, victim-type approach,” she says. “I was very inspired by the dignity, courage, and grace of the people I met, and this is what I tried to capture in my photographs.”
The photographs are taken in and around Phnom Penh, Pursat province, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Speu and Siem Reap. Of the Siem Reap images, perhaps the most striking is a white horse in front of one of the smaller temples at Angkor Wat. The picture has an old, almost painting-like quality to it.
“The horse is adorned with ceremonial harness, and imitates the remarkably detailed marble carvings of decorated war horses inside the long corridors of Angkor Wat main temple itself,” says Hardy. “This white horse had his head bowed and arched. He looked like a painting or a carving, at once unreal and timeless.”
Hardy also snapped some ditch-diggers she spotted near the temple complex, an image she feels epitomises the juxtaposition of “ancient and modern.”
“I came across this group of workers late in the afternoon,” she says. “They were dressed in standard issue government workers' clothes, faded to a soft blue. Dragonflies were filling the air, though these aren't apparent in the photograph. I felt this image spoke of ancient times as well as the present day. The tools they were using were not particularly modern. “In the background of the shot are two small ancient stone monuments, which very much speak of the area. At the time we were about five minutes’ drive by tuk tuk from Angkor Wat. I felt this image brought together many aspects of Cambodian life, both ancient and modern.”
The photographer says she was “speechless” seeing the giant trees intertwined with the temples at Ta Prohm.
“It was astonishing to see nature, in the form of these gigantic and swollen trunks and roots, just marauding through the strict stonework and slowly pulling it apart,” she says.
“It’s like nothing is really sacred, the world will revert to wildness if left unchecked.” Other images include shots of residents moved from their homes in Phnom Penh to Andong slum, and a forest protection activist listening intently at a group meeting.
Cambodia: Losing Ground ran for a week in March at London’s Redchurch Gallery, and is now at the Avenue Suites Hotel, Washington DC until the end of April.