Pascal Martin Saint Leon, December 2009
Phnom Penh Photo Festival 2009
Create a festival when there is no local public or at most few enthusiasts, otherwise the official ones during inaugurations and sometimes journalists ! We often find this scheme of empty exhibition rooms afte first hours, in Phnom Penh, there in Bamako (even if it is the meeting point of all African photographers), elsewhere in Lianzhou (photo festival of great importance in China)… For the initiator, it is often not easy to argue. Otherwise reminder to leave time to time for the visit practice and to encourage vocations. This is true for all disciplines. After more than 10 years of regular events in the city Lyon, successful attendance is assured. This was not in Bordeaux in 2009 that inaugurated its first Art Biennial. The fact remains that these moments are intense meeting points between artists and professionals, and often the place of workshops that allow artists to exchange ideas among themselves and produce major works, finally place to discover young talents fo the most innovative festival.
What is the place of photography in Cambodia ? Some young journalists photographers working in local newspapers, virtually no independent photographers except for tourist postcards, local studios which carry pictures or videos of baptisms, weddings and other family ceremonies, and very few photographic archives. Almost 40 years of wars and atrocities have destroyed personal and institutional archives, and made almost impossible photographic practice. Today institutions function are poorly, for example, the beuatiful School of Fine Arts in Phnom Penh reduced to the teaching of traditional disciplines by copying without any freedom of invention.
It is in this context that opens the second edition of the Photo Festival in Phnom Penh, which was held between November 28 to December 6, 2009 : 18 exhibitions of photographers from Southeast Asia and Europe, several manifestations of public photo projections in the neighborhoods of the city, at the School of Fine Arts and on barges floating along the popular riverside Tonle Sap River. What added the 4 and 5 December the "Nights of the Year in Phnom Penh", a replica of the "Nights of the Arles Encounters" curated by Claudine Maugendre, a demonstration of more 15,000 people around several public screenings on one of the main avenues of the capital with a selection of photographic work of major magazines and newspapers or made in Western photography schools. It is planned next year to concentrate more on projections of Asian magazines.
Christian Caujolle, the artistic director of the festival, works with emerging photographers from the South-East Asia and Western young photographers invited in the exhibitions and also working together in workshops called "Intersection" followed by editing and public screenings. The "Studio Image", organized by the French Cultural Center led by Alain Arnaudet, also initiator of the festival, and the local photo agency Melon Rouge, met for training four young Cambodian photographers for five months.
The festival is more a great workshop work and confrontation between photographers from different backgrounds, and les an inventory. The one-week workshop of 12 photographers in two by two, half Asian and half of Europe is essential : 9 local photographers (Sohred Hura d'Inde, Sean Lee de Singapore, Myoung Ho Lee de Corée du Sud, Luo Dan from China, Ampanee Satoh from Thailand and the Cambodians Sovann Philong, Lim Sokchanlina, Uy Nou Sereimony and Pha Lina) and 8 Westerns photographers (Lars Tunbjörk from Suede, Eva Leitolf from Germany, Steeve Iuncker from Switzerland eand Martin Kollar from Slovaquia).
Scattered in the "human scale capitale", using historic buildings (old colonial houses, museums, art school, which thus received its first photographic exhibition), abandoned warehouses, shops in major market O'Russey or even screens installed on boats, exhibitions offered a range of expressions : photography of intimate, of documentary about urban violence, of irony, of daily or of contemplation. It remains a popular attendance may be missed if it was not expressed in the external projections floating. Although attendance is low if people was not expressed in external floating projections.
The photo workshops have helped bring out some Cambodian photographers working mainly for the press but also on personal matters. As such Sovann Philong
Lim Sokchanlina is committed to the city of every day, the market street, a hub as part of his compositions he photographs with his motorcycle, ironically on the ongoing and impassive people, if not on absurd : here with a plastic bag packing on his head, then disguised as scruffy policeman asleep, elsewhere in the white shirt of young student taking himself as golden boy or as playboy still in bathing suits and dark glasses waiting for a girl... Humorously photographs where individual seeks to differentiate himself from the crowd, the young generation from their parents.
Pha Lina upsets by the father death, searching for traces of him in daily life and in his imagination, photographing an old coat he wore, the shadow of someone, or a candle on a table pub, as if he was reliving the moments shared with him.
From South-East Asia, Sean Lee of Singapore, 25 years old, working for the fashion press, shows here his first personal series: "Shauna" (shown at Arles Discoveries in 2009 by Francoise Caillé, curator of the 'Angkor Photo Festival"). Self-portraits of an other himself transformed by nights in bars and dancings of Singapore : Sean becomes the beautiful girl Shauna, as at the opening of his exhibition in Phnom Penh. Stilettos, provocated dress, swollen breasts, painted face, haunting blurred vision (in fact Shauna doesn't see much without the Sean glasses). Sean didn't say he is a transvestite, or homosexual, but rather fascinated by the metamorphosis of the unconscious, by the time of controlled trance, sorcery, where another required person arises. Looking Shauna without knowing Sean, we are already disturbed by this feeling of solitude that surrounds her. We dare not look at her as she doesn't look at us. A blank and silent space opens up between her and us, between her/his photograph and the viewer.
Sohrah Hura is Indian photographer who lives in the world of his family and his mother with schizophrenia. He photographed his mother sleeping with her big dog, preparing the kitchen or waiting for the visit of a friend. Photographs with forced grain, dazzling light flashes, shadows and blurs, all become a touching tribute to his love for his mother. The same sense of closeness is in the booklet that he made describing his life, from childhood memories of his parents, to meet his wife. A time where photography shows intangible.
Luo Dan lives in Chendu, China. His pictures had been shown to Lianzhou in 2008 and in Paris. He crossed the country from north to south, from east to west, trying subtly what is China. His photography is always asked, leaving the poetic space to fill. The time has actually stopped. Sometimes a solitary figure watching us, rarely opposite, as if there was something else beside, invisible, incomprehensible, mysterious.
Myoung Ho Lee from South Korea, has been noticed in Lianzhou 2007 from his first photographs : isolated trees in nature that stand in front of a large white canvas. A simple staging in its result but complex to implement, which refocuses our gaze on the naked beauty of nature.
From the West side: Jean Christian Bourcart, French, accustomed to the violence of American cities (seen in Arles 2009) has left overwhelmed by the large crowd of the popular market O'Russey , surprising silhouettes and lost eyes with his camera, far from carefree smiles. A long mural picture of 3 x 4 crown the market, a large 3-storey building in downtown, a city within the city. following the news last year for the newspaper "Phnom Penh Post" : a report on youths in Phnom Penh, or on the problem of urbanization of the city, or elsewhere a political meeting. But this does not prevent him from stopping in one place and focus on people as in the series "A life in the church" on an old Catholic church converted into accommodation at the heart of a neighborhood. Soon the church will be demolished and its inhabitants expulsed. Sovann shows the intimate daily life of these people, the decor of their house made of planks in this cut stones space. How to live in these places fo timeless ? From daily vicissitudes we spend to a progressive image of the essential, of the divine.
2nd Photo Festival in Phnom Penh, Decembre 2009
site : www.ccf-cambodge.org/ppp.php
Little background on Cambodia :
The current Kingdom of Cambodia (Khmer), today about 15 million inhabitants, is the successor to the Hindu and Buddhist Khmer Empire which ruled over almost all of the Indochinese Peninsula between the eleventh and fourteenth century (remains Angkor temples).
The tragic modern history from war to war, with the United States who are destroying the country during the Vietnam War, then five years of horrific "Red Khmers" with the genocide of 2 million people (1 out of 5) and the massacre of the intelligentsia and the executives of the country. Then the invasion of Viet Nam and its hold on the country. The photograph was widely used by the "Red Khmers" for police purposes and for propaganda : we keep in mind the painful pictures attached to the execution minutes that were shown in 1997 the population of Phnom Penh for tracing a missing person. The S 21, a former Phnom Penh high school turned into a place of imprisonment and torture by the Red Khmers, now named Tuol Sleng Museum about the Cambodian genocide, also shows photographs of the remains of unsustainable tortured bodies still chained to their deathbed.
The fall of the Red Khmers is caused by the invading Vietnamese army that occupied the country for ten years. The guerrillas continued until 1998, especially along the Thai border. After withdrawal of the Vietnamese, they place a very powerful prime minister Hun Sen in front of a king without power Norodom Sihamoni, a former ballet dancer and ambassador of Cambodia to UNESCO. It is close to China and especially the United States. The French language is no longer practically speaking, replaced by English, and the trade is in U.S. dollars.
Even if we find fault with the chaotic development of the country in a climate of corruption, the city is enriched every day of new department stores and modern society seats, evidence of economic dynamism, Buddhist temples are located around the country and maintaine altars in each home, the campaign in the Mekong Delta is rich in rice and herds of buffalo, and... the eyes of every Cambodian seem smiling to live.
In this context, the 2nd Photo festival takes place in Phnom Penh, just as a court, under the aegis of the International Tribunal in The Hague, judge Duch, the former head of the S21, 30 years later.
Openning of Sean Lee exhibit inside an old colonial house © Photo PMSL
Shauna © Photo Sean Lee (Singapore)
Living in church © Photo Sovann Philong (Cambodge)
Policeman waiting © Photo Lim Sokchanlina (Cambodge)
My Mother © Photo Sohrab Hura (Inde)
Road East-West trought China © Photo Luo Dan (Chine)
Portrait of tree © Photo Ho Lee (Corée)