Exhibition prompts debate over whether photographs are really paintings

David Holliday at the opening of The Montages La Palate exhibition. PHOTO SUPPLIED
David Holliday at the opening of The Montages La Palate exhibition. PHOTO SUPPLIED

Exhibition prompts debate over whether photographs are really paintings

Phnom Penh-based British photographer David Holliday describes his first Siem Reap exhibition, which opened on Saturday at Palate Restaurant, as “Painting with photographs.” The show, titled "The Montages La Palate", consists of brightly coloured, almost cartoon-like portrayals of street scenes, river views and old French colonial houses.

Londoner Holliday, who has lived in Phnom Penh for three years and exhibited at The Plantation hotel and Rubies Wine Bar, uses a special technique to create the comic strip-style look of his montages. He says his processing method has been compared to illustrations in Tintin books – and indeed looking at the bright colours and sharp outlines of the photographs, this is definitely true, particularly of the images of bicycles and motos.

“I have a technique I developed by chance,” he says. “But I have to keep this a little bit secret. I am still experimenting with technique and not all I produce gets shown as certain subjects do not work with this style or montage.”

The finished results look more like paintings or prints than photographs, and he agrees that once he has finished “dabbling” with them, this is certainly the case.

“Sometimes photography is described as painting with light. I would describe my works as painting with photographs,” he says. “I construct them by hand rather like painting with a brush on a board before printing on huge canvases.

“Often I fill in and add details with wax crayons and scraps of paper. I use canvas now and am experimenting with more mixed media, like oil paints or crumbled up brick and glue.”

Each picture takes about two weeks to make. Holliday is inspired by old buildings, street scenes and the small details he notices while out and about in Phnom Penh, Sihanoukville and the provinces.

“I love windows and doors, shutters and crumbling paintwork,” he says. “I love the old cultures in alleyways and features. But I also like the trendy motorbikes and sense of style people have. At the moment I am expanding my moto-style picture into a huge street montage using several canvases. I am also working on Siem Reap images.”

Subjects include Phnom Penh’s dilapidated White Building, an old abandoned coffee shop, a motorbike fashion parade, houses overgrown with plants and scenes from Otres beach after the rainy season.

One of Holliday’s favourite montages is Boat Village 4, which he created after chartering a boat on the Tonlé Sap.

“It was just me and the captain, who had no idea what I was doing,” he says. “I sat on the roof and took several hundred images. The tin roofs came out nicely. I wanted to portray the living conditions of the riverside squats and shanty towns and this is not possible by foot. Some people live in boats, some in falling down shacks.

“When I began to work on the picture, I made four very long photo montages and some smaller ones; I tacked them to my wall and it was a big confusion at first. There was too much detail, also the river was murky brown and dull.

“My son Dominic had the brilliant idea to make a reflection of the shacks, boats and houses on the brown river therefore keeping the colour. This I did.”

"The Montages La Palate" will run at Palate until March 10 2014.

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