The work of one of The Phnom Penh Post’s photojournalists was elected as one of the top five entries in the 2023 Photo Contest “Beauty of Our Community”.

The contest was organised by the Club of Cambodian Journalists (CCJ), with an award ceremony held on October 19.

On the day of the ceremony, the CCJ issued a press release noting that 29 contestants from many different media outlets had submitted entries. Each of them was allowed to enter three images to the panel of expert judges.

“The entrants captured images of tourist resorts, ecotourism, cultural and environmental sites, including several of the Kingdom’s developing areas,” it said, detailing the contents of the entries.

One of the five winners selected was The Post’s photojournalist Hong Menea. He was honoured with a fourth place finish, and was awarded 1.5 million riel ($375) and a trophy.

Menea’s award-winning shot featured a historic moment in the modern history of the Kingdom.

Poised high in the stands of the 75,000 capacity Morodok Techo National Stadium on May 5, Menea captured the true spirit of the opening ceremony of the 32nd Southeast Asian Games. The spectacular event, which was attended by ASEAN leaders and diplomats from all over the world, as well as huge numbers of the sports-mad Cambodian public, was overseen by then Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The elation of the performers – and their pride in promoting the Kingdom on the international stage – was palpable, and summed up the excitement of the Cambodian people, who had waited some 64 years to host the regional event.

The overall winner was independent photojournalist Lorn Zadina, who earned 3 million riel ($750) and a trophy, followed by Kim Borin from Phnom Penh Thmey, who claimed 2.5 million riel ($625).

Third-placed Tang Chhin Sothy – of the Agence France Presse (AFP) – was awarded 2 million riel ($500), while fifth placed photographer Pann Bony from BTV Cambodia received 1 million riel ($250).

Zadina said his entries had been snapped during the pre-dawn period at Angkor Wat Temple in Siem Reap, as tourists gathered to observe the equinox. He said his winning picture depicted the peace enjoyed by Cambodia, and illustrated how the Kingdom’s peace and stability drew visitors to the temple.

“It represented the peace and tranquillity of the popular site. The landscape looked soft and inviting in the early morning light, despite the thousands of people converging on the place and taking photos on their phones. I believe it illustrated the attractiveness of Cambodia’s tourist sites, something which I think we photographers need to capture,” he said.

Ministry of Information secretary of state Pen Bona, as a senior adviser to the CCJ, described the topic of the competition as inspired.

He noted that the goal of showing positive pictures and the Kingdom’s harmonious society is important, as it highlights the present situation on the ground. He explained that regrettably, many people around the world continued to picture Cambodia’s bitter history of civil wars, or the killing fields of the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime. All too often, well-known images from Cambodia were tragic, depicting war or poverty.

“Therefore, in my view, it is time for us to change this. The images we show in the media, both domestically and internationally, should be positive, because our country has so many positive things to show,” he added.

Troy McGrath, rector of American University of Phnom Penh (AUPP), where the award ceremony was held, described media outlets and civil society organisations as the foundation of any democratic system, and journalists are at the heart of the growth of these institutions. Showing the reality of life in Cambodia fairly and justly – and representing the perspectives and hopes and dreams of Cambodians – is important for development.

He added that working with journalists from different countries for over three decades has given him a clear understanding of how important the work of journalists is, not just in the countries they work in but for the world in general.

“Pictorial information is our mirror to the world. It shows the reality, tragedy, hope, happiness and potential. This tells us many things – and lets us look for ourselves,” he said.