Tan Po Nha is one of the last of a dying breed, falling victim to the inexorable march of new-fangled technology.
The 67-year-old is a professional photographer who, armed with a Nikon D70s digital camera, takes photos of people visiting the Royal Independence Gardens or the guardian sacred statues, Preah Ang Chek and Preah Ang Chom, next to the gardens.
Having taken a photo for a small fee, he then rushes off to a nearby camera store to get a print of the photo to give to his paying customers.
But his pool of customers is rapidly drying up because an increasing number of people, armed with cell phones with built in cameras, can take their own photos of their friends or even of themselves against a garden backdrop.
“Do you want me to take some photos of you?” is his daily refrain but increasingly people decline.
“The growth of modern technology is the main problem that has affected my career and my life. Now most people who visit this garden rarely ask me to take any photos, instead they take photos of themselves with their smart phone,” he says.
He also faces competition from another quarter – highly skilled and highly equipped young photographers with big format cameras who specialise in outdoor photography and who can also enhance photos by editing-in special effects.
“I can only take normal photos of people. But nowadays there a lot of young people learning to be professional photographers who, with their new technology, can make photos look greater.”
Tan Po Nha has been taking photos in the gardens since 1988 and loves his job. “It has been the best career in my life,” he says, “I like to capture peoples’ smiles with a natural view behind them.”
He has seen many of his friends in the business give up and find new careers.
“Some of my friends decided to give up this job. They said to me that sitting in the garden, almost for a whole day, and earning only $3 or $4 could not support their family at all,” he says.
“Before I could earn almost $10 a day by taking photos in this garden. That was a lot, but now I earn very much less than that and sometimes I sit here all day here and earn nothing, and I am so sad. As you can see everything in Cambodia now is completely changed, and my daily income does not meet my daily expense.”
Despite this, he refuses to quit the game and in fact still teaches photography to his children, so they too can be professional.”
He also adds to his income by taking photos at special occasion like birthdays and weddings but adds, “The wedding season is only for a few months, so for the rest of the time I have to sit in this garden and take pictures for those who have no modern materials. That’s my life.”