“Adventure is a path. Real adventure – self-determined, self-motivated, often risky – forces you to have firsthand encounters with the world. The world the way it is, not the way you imagine it. Your body will collide with the earth and you will bear witness. In this way you will be compelled to grapple with the limitless kindness and bottomless cruelty of humankind – and perhaps realize that you yourself are capable of both. This will change you. Nothing will ever again be black-and-white.” –Mark Jenkins

Friday, 22 February 2013

street photography - Phnom Penh

It certainly was a new experience and one that took me so far out of my comfort zone I was actually shaking at times this morning! Glad I did it though. We started at 8am by taking a tuk-tuk down to a cafe on the riverfront where Eric explained the rules, tips and plan for the first location - a food market. The steps were basically to find a suitable subject, take a photo fairly close, show the photo to the subject to build rapport and then take some more of the same subject from a much closer position. Sounds easy right? But when he said close, he meant closer than one metre and when he said suitable subject he meant one with a clear background in a jam-packed food market where everyone's first focus was preparing and selling their wares! I did manage a few shots in the market that I was quite happy with but the second location blew me away. With our new found confidence, Eric took us to a very dilapidated building, which is used as an unmaintained block of flats, where incredibly poor and mainly unemployed people live. There was no lighting inside and rubbish everywhere, so it was dark and difficult to see what you were treading on. However, many sets of open stairs zig-zagged up the block at regular intervals along the street providing places with plenty of light where children played and adults gathered to eat or just sit and watch the market on the streets below. Here it was much easier to build rapport with the people as they had time to chat and we had space to work. I managed a few more shots that I am very pleased with. This beautiful little girl was one.
From there we went to a pagoda which could only be reached through an area where glue-sniffers hung out. Eric warned us to stay close and not to take photos of them or any of the disabled people that they pushed around on a wooden trolley bed - he said it was difficult to know if they would get aggressive or want money, so best to just walk on past.  We managed to get a few shots of one of the monks who lived there, but very soon we carefully made our way out along an alleyway where the sick and the homeless lined the walls.
The order of things during the day became somewhat of a blur for me from that point on, with only 3 hours sleep under my belt my head was spinning. We went to Tuol Sleng before lunch; the prison where officials were tortured and killed by the Khmer Rouge which was an eerie place for me as I have read so much about the country and the atrocities it has suffered in it's recent history. There were only seven people who were still alive in the prison when Vietnam arrived in Cambodia in 1979 to free them. Tens of thousands of people had been killed and tortured in the prison during the 4 year period of Pol Pots reign. Somehow taking photos of some of the rooms didn't seem right, so we wandered outside and I bought a book about the life of one of the two remaining survivors, Chum Mey. Chum, now 83, was sitting at a table under the shade of a tree inside the prison walls with a translator on hand to talk to people. He kindly wrote my name out inside the book and dated it in English above his Khmer signature. Incredible. I have to confess, nothing really seemed to matter much after that. We had a gorgeous lunch and then in the afternoon visited a Buddha "factory" and another Pagoda followed by the cremation temple for the late King Sihanouk which I found quite garish and very gold. Then thankfully it was beer time. A very long and emotional but successful day.

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