PHNOM PENH – ONE DAY
Earlier this year, my friend Rupert Abbott asked me if I wanted to mount an exhibition of my photos at Baitong, his restaurant and meeting space in Phnom Penh. I was a bit hesitant at first, because although I quite like my own photos, I don’t necessarily expect anyone else to like them, let alone buy them. However, he put me in touch with Matt Cuenca, an artist who runs the exhibition space at Baitong, and he inspired me to show some of my Phnom Penh street photography.
But which shots should I show? I suggested to Matt that I send him a collection of my favourites and that he make a selection around a particular theme. The theme he came back with was ‘A day in the life of Phnom Penh’, one photo for every hour, dawn to dusk.
‘I like the idea’ I said, ‘the only problem is almost all my photos are taken between 7 and 9 am, or 5 and 7pm’.
I decided there was nothing for it but to reshoot, to the idea of the theme, over the course of a single day.
No sooner had I agreed to this than I realized it was an assignment that no sensible photographer would choose, since during the middle of the day the light tends to be unfavourable, especially in a place like Phnom Penh which can be very glary from about 8.30 am.
Nevertheless, I decided to persevere, and thought about an itinerary that would allow me to capture different, iconic aspects of the city’s street life in reasonable light at different times of the day. For me, that means street hawkers, trash recyclers, the Royal Palace, market sellers, monks collecting alms, cyclos, tuk-tuks, motos, Khmer modernist architecture, outdoor aerobics, street barbers, construction sites, auto mechanics and breakers’ yards. Basically, I opted for outdoors at the beginning and end of the day, and for markets and workshops in the middle of the day.
The shoot itself was quite a challenge: I had to try and get a good shot within the allotted timeframe before jumping in a tuktuk and crossing the city to my next location. I also had to fit in a farewell lunch for some friends who were leaving for Canada the next day, and find a pharmacy that was open after a bee stung me inside my ear! Two of the shots were made with only a few seconds left on the clock.
In the end, however, I was reasonably pleased with the results. Although it was dull in the afternoon, and the markets a bit quieter than usual, I got great light in the morning. I must also say a big ‘thank you’ to Chhoeun Vichika, who was my assistant for the day.
Not being a professional photographer, I didn’t need to make money from the exhibition, so with Matt’s help I decided to hold a silent auction for Friends International, an NGO that works with street kids. Last I heard, ten of the pictures had sold, though I’m not sure how much we raised.
The photos were shot with a Fuji X-Pro 1 and Olympus EM5. I wonder if any of you can tell which is which? Sorry about the watermarks – it’s to protect the exhibits, which are certified limited edition prints.
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