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A slice of life: photography exhibition hopes to capture Cambodia’s diversity

A slice of life: photography exhibition hopes to capture Cambodia’s diversity

For the past six months Michael Klinkhamer – a Dutch photojournalist with more than 25 years experience in the field – has taken amateur snappers on daily photo tours around Phnom Penh and its surroundings, giving tips on how to take better pictures.

Not once, he claims, has he come back from the tours without a photo he loved.

“It’s often said among photographers that you can’t go wrong in Cambodia,” he says. “And that has to do with the beauty of Cambodia and the excitement and diversity of Phnom Penh.”

Klinkhamer’s latest exhibition, opening tonight at the FCC, offers about 35 shots capturing some of the “magical moments and surprises” he has encountered during the tours. Will Jackson had a chat with him about some of his favourites.

Can’t Go Wrong Here runs until the end of March at the FCC, 363 Sisowath Quay.

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“I like this photograph very much. The cropping is very precise. What I like to show here is that this is her home – her kitchen, living room, yard – and even though it is all very modest, she’s very well kept, almost fashionable, in her black turtleneck sweater. Her smile is friendly.”

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“I took this photo during a rainy season downpour. Everyone else was taking shelter but this kid was taking advantage of it and taking a shower instead. I like the photographic quality of the image; the tonal range, the shining water drops on the skin. I also love the expression on his face, with the water dripping off his mouth. It’s really a moment. It shows his release; maybe it’s his only shower that day. A good photo should raise questions and tell a story.”

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“This photo was taken during wet season flooding near a Vietnamese settlement on the Mekong just outside Phnom Penh, but this woman’s deck could just as easily be a catwalk during Phnom Penh Fashion Week. In any other country, like in England, flooding like this would be an emergency. But here people just live with it and manage to keep smiling. She looks great. They just go along with their lives, their clothes are clean and they prepare food and sell bananas. It’s quite amazing. What it shows is the resilience of the people here.”

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“With this photograph it’s the element of surprise. You see this water and the water plants from a distance and walk a little bit closer and see these children playing amongst them. You think it could be an interesting photograph. Then this little boy pops out of the water. He’s not posing. He’s just come out of the water, you can see the water streaming down his face. It’s a moment you will not get back. And that’s photography, especially here in Cambodia. The light, the people, the heat and then all of a sudden you’re able to connect with your environment and you get one of these photographs. And it happens more often here than in, say, Amsterdam. And that’s why I work here.”

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“There are many ghosts in Phnom Penh. There are many beggars, old people and people with disabilities who walk the streets trying to scavenge a living; some money here, maybe some food there. Maybe they have a nap behind a wall where it’s quieter. For the common people going to the market, to work or going about their business, they’re almost like ghosts. You see them but you don’t see them. They touch you for money but you don’t notice. These old ladies were wandering and begging around Street 130, they’re survivors and reminders of days gone by left between a rock and a hard place.”

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“This is a more confronting picture; a mother and child scavenging through garbage at Stung Meanchey. Images like this are found in many Phnom Penh slum areas. I believe taking travellers to these parts of town is part of teaching photojournalism. Even if they may not work for a news organisation, amateur photographers still publish their pictures on blog sites and social media, like Facebook, raising questions and awareness through the internet and photo exhibitions. Everybody is a journalist these days.”

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