“For photographers, community is now more important than ever.” The opening words of Jessica Lim, director of Angkor Photo Festival and Workshop, resonated with the crowd that had gathered around the lavish French neocolonial architecture of the Cambodian town close to the famous temples of Angkor Wat. The annual Angkor Photo Festival and Workshop is in its 14th edition, which makes it the longest running festival of its kind in Asia, - it has established itself very well in the schedules of professionals all over the continent despite its remote location.
But the photographers, editors, curators and other professionals, who visit the festival most recently, know that doing their jobs might be more difficult, even more dangerous than ever. Some high profile photographers have been arrested and detained for unusual long times recently : Shahidul Alam of Bangladesh has recently been released on bail on 11/20 after he had spoken out in favor of protesting students and therefore spent more than 100 days in prison – as his statement was deemed “provocative” and therefore punishable under Bangladeshi laws.
Many of the professionals involved in the festivals events and exhibitions which run for 10 days in early December have been involved in campaigns demanding Alam's release – now many express relief that their friend is free.
Depending on the location and subject of their work, journalists and photographers are exposed to more or less of a risk, but here, where people come together annually, the ones involved feel relief in a strong community. It is a place for exchange of ideas and solutions to problems – a forum that many professionals don't find in their countries with a lesser developed journalistic infrastructure.
From its beginning in 2005 the festival has been working on filling that void in Cambodia. And still today the focus is not as much on showcasing works, as it is on exchange between professionals and aspiring professionals. “Diversity is crucial for us.” described Jessica Lim. “Young photographers from all over Asia join our festival and then become our ambassadors in their countries. We hope we will get more workshop applications from Taiwan in the future”, she added.
Besides a weeklong workshop for aspiring professionals, the festival also runs workshops for local children between the ages 6 and 16.
Roun Ry of Cambodia is a professional photographer based in Siem Reap. He shoots commercial assignments, but he also covers social and environmental issues, as well as traditional lifestyles in his home province. His career started as a participant in the children's workshop in 2011. Now he is also a teacher in the workshop and sees the festival as an occasion to connect with editors and curators, to show and discuss his work in Portfolio Review events with professionals of institutions such as Reuters or the World Press Photo Foundation. For Roun, the festival “encourages and pushes young photographer to go deeper and understand more”.
The festival also showcases a small, but eclectic selection of photographic works. Huiying Ore's photos were displayed in an outdoors exhibition along the Siem Reap River that meanders through the city center catching the eyes of tourists and locals alike. In her works she documents the small town of Boten in Northern Laos. The Chinese investors had promised 1.5 billion for further developments in a casino resort there. As this kind of gambling is illegal in China, the town at the Laotian border was supposed to become a paradise for fortune and adventure seeking Chinese in which even all clocks are set to Chinese time. Eventually the Chinese investors must have lost interest in the project, leaving the town with half finished tourist infrastructure and local businesses without customers.
The festival doesn't follow a political agenda, but it showcases art that speaks truth to power and requires an environment of freedom of artistic expression. Even though this freedom is challenged in many countries in Asia as well as worldwide, Angkor still finds an environment to thrive in an unlikely place. For Jessica Lim, global issues need to be addressed, as “rejecting universal values and denouncing them for example as Imperialist Western is just a stupid argument”.
Cambodia is ranked 142th in the Freedom of Press Index, freedom of expression is “drastically curtailed” under a government that doesn't allow an independently operating political opposition. Still with it's international outlook combined with a focus on a local audience, the festival manages to stay relevant.
The festival has grown over the years, but it still needs to adapt to an ever changing environment, for example funding has to be secured from a multitude of sponsors, prints have to be made in a country that that still has little experience in professional printmaking. Still in recent years Cambodia has developed in many sectors and professionalism many industries with the help of Chinese investments.
Siem Reap offers world class accommodation far beyond the budget of the ordinary visitors to Angkor Photo festival. Nowadays more and more Chinese tourists visit the city and the famous temples for a short luxury vacation and Cambodia is glad to cater their very specific needs. Between Cambodia and China there is cooperation in all sectors and as of late especially also in politics and administration. Francoise Callier, who initiated the festival in 2005, observes the developments: “For China Laos is already done, Cambodia is next.”
The governments of Cambodia and China moving closer together might have impact on institutions such as the Angkor Photo Festival. While the organizers cooperate with local Cambodian authorities and censorship is not directly an issue, at similar festivals in China the situation is much different. At the Lianzhou Foto festival which started last December, curators had to negotiate with censors until the last minute and significant works, such as iconic fashion photos by Erwin Blumenfeld had to be pulled from the show due to some very late changes in the opinion of the censorship authority.
At the Angkor photo festival, one evening of slideshow projections is reserved for the works of contemporary Chinese documentary photography – an event that has been part of the festival for many years and is curated by Wang Xi this year. The festival has been cooperating with Chinese artists and journalists since early on and few, but high profile Chinese professionals are part of the community that gathers here.
Lu Guang, who has been member of the team of curators at Angkor in 2010, was missed dearly in the festival’s most recent edition. In early November 2018 Lu Guang was abducted by the authorities in the Western Chinese Province of Xinjiang. Only recently his detainment has been confirmed by the police without reasons given. His photos are still shown in the slideshows and his detainment is discussed among visitors to the festival.
The professionals gathered in Siem Reap in December work on different subjects and in different countries, but many feel like they are struggling together.
Veejay Villafranca who works on environmental refugees on the Philippines, in an environment where extrajudicial killings of journalists happen frequently is convinced that journalists have to speak truth to power : “We will not spoon-feed the public with what governments want. It is important that we journalists know that we have each other's backs”.
第15屆吳哥攝影節與工作坊（The Angkor Photo Festival & Workshops）
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