Having never seen mountains with his own eyes when he was young, Hean Rangsey had to make do with the drawings of them he’d seen in a book he’d read.

Then one day when he was travelling outside of his home province of Kratie he got to see for himself what the author had illustrated.

The beauty of the mountains opened his eyes wide every time he passed by them. These wonderful sights were slow to fade from his mind.

Rangsey has used his skills as an artist and photographer to manifest his vision through photos of mountains that he hopes will touch the hearts of those who see them at the Sa Sa Art Projects photo exhibition Adaptation? which is now open and runs through February 20.

The mountains have been written about in poems, stories and songs describing their size, height, strength and beauty. The history and the names of the mountains were compiled by our Khmer ancestors as tales passed from one generation to another.

“As a kid, I used to read and fantasise about seeing those scenes fresh in my eyes, and they stuck in my head.

“As I travelled through the highland provinces, I came across those mountain views, but some of the mountains along the road were quietly being excavated and dug up,” the 27-year-old Rangsey says.

Without further explanation, Rangsey says he would love to just present his pictures and leave the rest of the message for the audience to contemplate for themselves.

Hean Rangsey and photos of mountains he took for the show. Photo supplied

Adaptation? is the title and theme for the exhibition of photographs from the students of the Sa Sa Art Projects Contemporary and Documentary Photography class of 2020.

Students taking the three-month class got a chance to explore the possibilities of photography and beyond learning to use critical thinking in their understanding of visual arts.

The Contemporary and Documentary Photography class is a part of Sa Sa Art Projects’ education programme that supports young artists in developing their emerging artistic voices through photography.

Sixty-eight photographs taken by nine students will display in the exhibition, with each student providing six to 12 photos.

Organiser and instructor Lim Sokchanlina explains how they came up with the theme: “We didn’t randomly select the theme. As we gathered the work of the students, there were subjects ranging from personal experiences to documenting nature and environmental issues, social structures, urbanisation, human connection and finding identity.

“As we discussed all those topics, we asked how people would respond to these pressures or learn to live with them and that is where the adaptation comes in. We all agreed that ‘adaptation’ would be a perfectly suitable theme,” he says.

Kheng Soknet, known as Sokleap, from Kampong Cham province, is another of the nine students from the class with photos in the exhibition. He is interested in the environment and photography. He uses photos to express his views on current issues such as conflicts between humans and the environment.

Through his art, he hopes to be able to play a role in reminding people to protect the environment and reform bad habits such as littering everywhere without any thought or consideration for others.

Sokleap’s work in the exhibition follows this theme and shows sunlight reflecting off different pieces of rubbish or litter in eight different photos he calls Galaxy Pollution.

“My family lives along the Mekong River near the lake. I always love to look at the water. It’s an absolutely stunning view to see sparkling reflections from the sun on the water.

“The rubbish has just been thrown in [the water] irresponsibly and people must begin to realise that the little things that we throw away can cause great damage to the water and the environment.

“That was why I decided to use Galaxy Pollution as my theme. Through this work I hope to deliver a message that wakes people up and gets them to cooperate to save our motherland, the planet and the universe as a whole from the destruction caused by pollution,” Sokleap says.

Sokchanlina says that upon seeing his students’ work he was impressed by how creative each student was in the execution of each of their individual projects with just one and a half months to work after the three-month class.

Lim Sokchanlina ensures that the photos are level. Hean Rangsey

As their teacher, Sokchanlina says no student is more or less remarkable – each student shows great aptitude in their own way and has a different purpose and message.

All of his students’ works are creative, he says. “It all depends on what speaks to the viewer personally.”

He can see the great efforts they’ve made to create such high quality work for the exhibition since most of them also have full time jobs.

“From one generation to the next, my students never fail to amaze me with their fresh concepts and their natural expertise with photography. The same goes for this third class doing the exhibition, they are doing a fantastic job,” he says.

Frankly speaking, Sokchanlina says he’s never sure how much the students get out of the lessons in class but then he is reassured when sees them improve significantly from their first day through to these exhibition projects.

Sokchanlina and an assistant work on the display of photos for the exhibition. Hean Rangsey

One student told him that the more he’s learned, the harder it is to achieve even one satisfactory shot because his personal standards for his own work have risen along with his understanding of the art form.

Students who take the class learn to be more appreciative of photographers and respectful of the career itself as they come to understand that taking a great picture is never as easy as it might seem.

In this exhibition, Sokchanlina says, the purpose is to showcase the brilliant works of the graduating students, but if any visitors to the exhibition admire any of the photos and want to hang them on their own walls, they are always welcome to make an offer to purchase them. The average price will probably be around $250 for each print.

Sokchanlina’s ultimate message to his students is that “becoming a great professional photographer requires more than just snapping pictures. It requires a deeper knowledge and a general understanding of life itself”.

And his ultimate message to the rest of us?

“One last thing – I hope many people will come to support this exhibition of young photographers and see their artwork as this would be a great source of encouragement to all of these photographers to keep going,” he says.

For further information, visit Sa Sa Art Projects Facebook page: @sasaartprojects or their website: https://www.sasaart.info/