Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Photo exhibition offers a glimpse of Cambodia’s past through a French lens



Photo exhibition offers a glimpse of Cambodia’s past through a French lens

An undated photograph of a flooded village, one of 40 on display now at the French Institute's Voyage into the Heart of Cambodia exhibition. Photo supplied
An undated photograph of a flooded village, one of 40 on display now at the French Institute's Voyage into the Heart of Cambodia exhibition. Photo supplied

Photo exhibition offers a glimpse of Cambodia’s past through a French lens

Born into a family of photographers in Belgium, one-time photo agent Françoise Callier, program director of the Angkor Photo festival until last year, has a lifelong passion for photography. Callier selected 40 photographs taken between 1908 and 1968 during research expeditions that are archived in the French School of the Far East (EFEO)’s collection of over 26,000 images for Voyage into the Heart of Cambodia, now on display at the French Institute. This week, Callier spoke with Alessandro Marazzi Sassoon about the Kingdom’s early photographic record.

Are these among the earliest pictures of the country?

The problem is that they are not all dated, so I don’t know exactly. The first photographs of Cambodia are from 1880 or something like that. There were 26,000 pictures, so I though first of all that there were so many that I had to find a topic, so I decided to think about the work of EFEO and saw they found such fantastic statues of which we were unaware. The three focuses were: daily life; the work of EFEO; and objects that were found or photos of objects that are in the National Museum.

What is known about the photographers and their research?

The purpose is to show what they were doing, but I have few details about that. For the photos we don’t know the photographers. It’s from all over Cambodia: the stories come especially from expeditions. For me, it was important to show this work because there was one small exhibition long ago and so I thought it was very important for Cambodian people to have a look at their past. At the past exhibition, you can see there were a lot of Cambodians looking at the exhibition, even photographers, and they were really surprised.

Monks at a well in the Northern Monastery of Angkor Wat, 1952. Photo supplied
Monks at a well in the Northern Monastery of Angkor Wat, 1952. Photo supplied

What was your process in selecting the photographs from such a massive archive?

For some years we are always doing an exhibition at EFEO. And last year I made a proposal to Dominique Soutif, the director of at that time, and said, ‘Why don’t we make an exhibition of your archives?’ And we thought it was a very good idea, so we did it. As it was an exhibition of EFEO I thought it was very important to show their work, their discoveries and incredible objects. We don’t know where a lot of them are now. A lot went into the National Museum in Phnom Penh, but a lot also disappeared.

What do these photographs capture about daily life at the time they were taken?

There are not many about daily life. Most are about archaeology, but we thought with Dominique to include some. There are boats, fishermen . . . most of them could have been taken now, aside from the people of course. For Cambodians it is the richness of their cultural heritage. I took huge pleasure to [select from all of the images]. It took me 15 days, nearly full time, because I had to clean all the scans. It was a huge work but I loved it.

Voyage into the Heart of Cambodia is on at the French Institute, #218 Street 184, through August 20.

MOST VIEWED

  • Omicron patients can stay home: PM

    The Ministry of Health has issued a directive on the treatment of people who have tested positive for the highly transmissible Omicron coronavirus variant, following a suggestion from Prime Minister Hun Sen on the night of January 21. The directive permits home quarantine for those who

  • Cambodia’s first ever anime festival kicks off Jan 22 at capital’s F3 centre

    Phnom Penh's first ever Anime Festival will bring together fans, artists, shops and other local businesses with ties to the Japanese animation style for cosplay competitions, online games, pop-up shops and more on January 22, with Friends Futures Factory (F3) hosting. F3 is a project that

  • Hun Sen gets 4th Covid shot, urges compatriots to follow

    Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany on January 14 received their fourth dose of Covid-19 vaccine and called on compatriots to follow suit as the Omicron coronavirus variant continues to spread in the community. This marks the launch of Cambodia's fourth-dose vaccination campaign,

  • Fourth dose Covid booster drive jabs 43K in two days

    In the first two days of the fourth-dose Covid-19 vaccination campaign, more than 43,000 people volunteered to get the jabs, while over 4.6 million people have received a third shot. Health ministry spokeswoman Or Vandine said that fourth-dose vaccinations, which began on January 14 exclusively with the Pfizer

  • Singapore backs Cambodia's efforts on Myanmar

    Singaporean Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong supports Cambodia in its efforts to seek a solution to the ongoing Myanmar crisis as the chair of ASEAN. Lee expressed his support during a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen via videoconference on January 14, with the talks focused

  • PM sets tourism reopening as centrepiece of ATF 2022

    Prime Minister Hun Sen urged ASEAN to reopen tourism and trade now that many of the bloc’s member countries have vaccinated their populations. Speaking at the 40th ASEAN Tourism Forum 2022 (ATF 2022) in Preah Sihanouk province on January 18, the premier also said ASEAN has a