When it comes to promotion, Siem Reap photographer Peter Oxley thinks in big picture scenarios. Hence his latest exhibition, simply titled Peter Oxley at the FCC: Images of a changing Cambodia, is being promoted in a big way – his photos have been blown up to epic proportions and displayed in a bold hard-to-miss manner across the front of FCC Angkor.
Oxley says that FCC Angkor general manager Douglas Moe invited him to hold the show at the hotel, and then Oxley suggested mounting enlarged photos on the hotel’s façade.
He tells The Insider, “Actually I came up the idea and put it across to Douglas. I agree – the display is certainly eye-catching.”
The exhibition itself, which runs until July 15, isn’t your normal exhibition in that it isn’t new: it’s a follow-up to the five-month long exhibition of Oxley’s work held recently at the Angkor National Museum, and is a culled-down version of the museum show.
“The images are basically the same, with a smaller selection at the FCC,” Oxley says, “The theme too is the same – images of people in every day life which are disappearing as Cambodia changes rapidly.”
Oxley himself isn’t the normal sort of expat photographer resident in Cambodia: he mostly avoids the abstractionism, and eschews the “usual dark images,” of poverty, orphans and landmine victims etc.
Instead he opts to photograph normal scenes, especially of what he calls “bucolic Cambodia.” Many of the scenes he captures are fast disappearing, such as buffalo carts and roadside stalls selling gasoline from Johnnie Walker bottles. As the ‘slogan’ for the FCC exhibition states: “Now you see it, soon you won’t.”
Oxley captures these scenes in a rich realism that causes some detractors to dismiss him as a “chocolate box scene” purveyor. I
nterestingly, Oxley says he is influenced by late last-century photographers who have become classicists of the modernism movement, the photographers that indeed helped establish photography as an art form.
Of his photographic inspirations, Oxley says, “Probably for this series and portraiture in general, the early American photographers, Paul Strand and Dorothea Lange. Not only were they great photographers, they also had a social conscience and were pioneers in the field of documentary photography. I also love the images of Andre Kertesz.”
A press release compiled for the FCC Angkor exhibition describes Oxley as a “people’s photographer,” and claims that, “Oxley shows in his images a unique talent for bringing out the inner person.”
But attention is also drawn to “a certain note of melancholy and sadness in Oxley’s scenes of the beautiful Cambodian countryside. These scenes are fast disappearing.”
Indeed the press release waxes lyrical and says, “In a sense, Oxley’s images of Cambodia are reminders of his native England and the monumental and irreversible change it underwent in the onslaught of the Industrial Revolution.
“In Oxley’s images one detects a poetry that harks back to the Romantic Poets, who ‘mourned’ the passing of ‘ye olde England’ as Wordsworth’s vision of the pastoral countryside carpeted by ‘a host of golden daffodils’ became blighted by chimneys spewing black smoke and noxious fumes.”
Brit-born Oxley, who graduated from university as a geologist, is a character in himself, having lived in Japan for nigh on 30 years where he worked in advertising with Standard Advertising, Inc and in publishing with The Japan Times, while pursuing his personal interest in photography as an autodidact.
In 1992, he got a lucky break as a photographer – a motor sports shoot for Nissan Motor Company, which resulted in his racing pictures being published in double-page spreads in Time and Newsweek.
During his Japanese period he had several exhibitions. Just a Moment showed at the Tokyo City Club; Passenger was on show at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Japan in Tokyo; and Zen, A Personal View showed at the Kodak Photo Salon in Tokyo.
In the Philippines, an exhibition titled Manila: Chapter 1 showed at the Ayala Museum.
Oxley also published a book titled Matsuri - Call of the Gods. Matsuri festivals are one of the most photographed aspects of Japanese culture but Oxley opted not to show festive scenes; instead he focused on the people taking part in the festivities and their emotions, an attempt to reveal the ‘honne’ (inner self) of the Japanese psyche.
He also produced a black-and-white folio of Philippine movie stars, styled like classic Hollywood glamour shots, for the fiftieth anniversary of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ major TV and publication conglomerate.
The project came about after a proposal made by Oxley and his creative partner, Filipino-writer Virgil Calaguian. The photos were published in the flagship publication of the network.
Oxley moved to Siem Reap in 2008 and together with partner Virgil opened the Cockatoo Nature Resort guesthouse which is now up for sale because Oxley says he’s putting the emphasis back on his photographic pursuits, with Myanmar firmly on the agenda.