Phnom Penh Photo Festival 2015
Attending the opening ceremony of Phnom Penh Photo Festival 2015.
I saw the Phnom Penh Photo Festival 2015 announcement in the Expat FB page and was happy that I was able to attend it this year. The festival was hosted by Phnom Penh Photo Association in partnership with the French Institute of Cambodia from 31st January – 28 February 2015. This time, the festival took place around 10 different venues across Phnom Penh.
We attended the opening ceremony where 40 tuk-tuks were there for our tour of PPP indoor exhibitions at Bophana Center, Java Cafe, La Plantation, X-Em gallery, Romeet Gallery and Chinese House. Each tuk tuk had the PPP advertisement behind them so that we knew which onese we could take for the tour.
Gallery 1: Institut Francais du Cambodge.
The first photography exhibition that we saw was held outdoors, by Studio Images, created in 2009, supervising young photographers who have a passion for this field. Mark Remissa and Philong Sovan meet up with the enthusiasts every Saturday at The French Institute. These sessions resulted in the completion of photography projects which showed the local settings of Phnom Penh.
Next we went inside one of the galleries to view Words After Phnom Penh by Charlie Jouvet. On the commemoration of the 40th anniversary of the entry of Pol Pot’s troops into Phnom Penh and its evacuation in three days, the photographer drew empty portraits of the city which haunted me unpleasantly. With its new landmarks, monuments, shops, markets and avenues, he erases the people, leaving the city empty and quiet as though life was just cleared. Looking at these photos gave me goosebumps. [Location: #218, Keo Chea, Phnom Penh]
Gallery 2: Java Cafe & Gallery.
We headed to the Java Cafe with the tuk tuk driver, to view Hundred Portraits of Maydan by Emeric Lhuisset, where he captured 100 people who were gathered in Kiev, asking them to answer a simple question “What is your dream? What do you think the future looks like?” He puts them in the same background, where they stared at the photographer, some with the blue and yellow national colors, giving us a look at the drama on that day.
Inside Java Gallery were two more photography exhibitions; Unity by Kim Hak which was held upstairs while Thi-Nhan Nguyen was held downstairs. The photographs by Kim Hak were taken during the National mourning period after the death of former King Norodom Sihanouk in October 2012. He uses orange and yellow tones to create a personal effect and drama to the scenes. [Location: #56, Sihanouk Boulevard, Phnom Penh]
Gallery 3: La Plantation.
This was my first time in The Plantation Hotel and the courtyard view was not disappointing. Entering the large door, we turned to the right where Chung Uong Chhors’ photos titled Perspective can be seen. For his first exhibition, he placed himself cleverly, in the middle of the images to break the geometric balance to overpass this exercise. Photos of an aircraft cabin, a park or a shopping street, combined with proper treatment of color, invent new spaces and make us see the world from a different angle. [Location: #28, Samdach Preah Theamak Lethet Ouk, Phnom Penh]
Gallery 4: Romeet Gallery.
Our next gallery visit was nearby our house, called Romeet Gallery. The exhibition by Vannak Khun called Numbers was held upstairs, in a spacious loft above the city. The photographer questions his own identity in reference to both the beliefs of his country and the actual situation in Cambodia. Numerology is present in everyday games of chances which resulted in a combination of sculptured figures with numerical points in his photographs. I didn’t really understand his photographs, perhaps because I am not well accustomed to the local culture. [Location: #34E1, Street 178, Phnom Penh]
Gallery 5: X-Em Gallery.
I didn’t realize that the curly haired guy whom we saw earlier at the Institute of French was the Cambodian blogger named Ti Tit. His first exhibition was held at X-Em Gallery where we saw photographs of himself, his family, his trips, provoking truth and playing with fiction. His blog (www.seyhaktit.wordpress.com) mostly tells funny stories with jokes. Photos of him with slogans on his body, his hand, staging his own mock suicide, scissors over his tongue made for a good viewing. We took a break here where they served chips and soda during the session. [Location: #13D, Street 178, Phnom Penh]
Gallery 6: Tepui Chinese House.
This beautiful oriental restaurant housed the next photography exhibition by Zhang Kechun called The Yellow River, where he traveled to take soft images of the area. His photos aimed at showing pollution of the great river and the regions through which it passes. In it, humans are seen small, almost disappearing against the excessive nature. I loved how the photos were placed from the ceiling and on the walls together with the tables and sofas. [Location: Preah Sisowath Quay, Phnom Penh]
Gallery 7: Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center.
Our last gallery for the indoor exhibition was at Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center, which housed most of the Khmer arts and film after the Khmer Rouge Regime. Therefore, for this festival, the center put together a series of family photo album from the seventies to the nineties, some in black and white, others colorized in the 1980s. These were pieces of photos that were kept away from the destruction of the regime, showing us memories of the past. [Location: #64, Street 200 Ohkna Men, Phnom Penh].
Gallery 8: Sisowath Quay.
We only managed to see the outdoor photo exhibition on Sisowath Quay, starting with Hicham Benohoud photos called Ane Situ. The photographer puts a donkey as the main character of his visuals, which is a popular means of transport in Morocco. He pairs this with richly decorated living rooms, bourgeois interiors showing that they are always ready to obey. I guess it’s his way of mocking people who follow and accept the absurdity, without thinking.
Another photographer from The Netherlands was by Ruud Van Empel, who showed us colorful images of children around the world. He invents a paradise inhabited by children, smooth and perfect characters. To him it is a world without reality that does not exist, but a world that is still there, terribly beautiful, too beautiful maybe that it does not exist. The images of these children in colorful clothing gave me an impression of a copy and paste world where everyone looked similar.
What I loved about the whole exhibition.
I loved that it was held in the The French Institute, where a nice cafe gave us a chance to have coffee and snacks before the event started. The free tuk tuk rides were also great because it meant we could go around and tour the galleries for free during opening day. It also got many people to be interested in the festival and sharing it out to others. The outdoor installations which were held in the Riverside, Central Market, Universities and the French Embassy allowed people to view the photos as they drove along the roads.
The fact all these exhibitions were free to the public was also a plus point and it got locals as well tourists to view the talents and their work up close. I hope that there will be more female photographers in the next festival and feature more local talents. It’s nice to see Cambodia growing in photography, film and arts.
About Yafieda Jamil
A Malaysian girl currently working abroad in Phnom Penh city. I love a good road trip, hot cappuccinos, spicy food and staring at old buildings. My mission is to inspire people to see the world differently before we all get any older. Oh and giraffes are the most beautiful creatures on earth.