I’ve never posted my video of the art program at Wat Opot. The video briefly features Jon Sochea (Lankrome), a young boy that I’ve known for years who recently died of AIDS. The art program is for kids at Wat Opot and from the surrounding community. I shot it at a community art party where experienced students helped others experience painting on canvas. Many of the participants were painting for the first time, and sometimes the results were surprising. I thought Lankrome’s painting was the best of the day. The teacher is arguably one of Cambodia’s better artists, but he has chosen obscurity. He was one of the original students at the founding of Phare Ponleu Selpak, Cambodia’s rising art school in Battambang. This video is a rough effort done in a hurry, but if you like watching kids discover art, or wonder how rural children respond to art, you may well enjoy it.
Andrew Sullivan posted last week about How to Survive a Plague, a documentary about the AIDS epidemic in America. Then a follow-up post with reader comments caught my attention. They were reflecting on a terrible crisis that has largely passed in America. One person wrote about his daily dose of Complera: “One pill. Every morning. Forever. And I’ll be fine.” How wonderful for him.
I typed the following response:
My friend died of AIDS on April 25 this year. Unlike your reader, he wasn’t taking Complera but a combination of outdated drugs every morning and evening. The drugs themselves were attacking his organs over time. He was only nine. He is survived by his older sister and many friends who are also living with HIV.
The long term survival of all my young friends living with HIV is very much in question today, because they are poor. A decade ago life saving ARV’s were finally produced for the poor, and today they are still taking the same drugs. There are only two levels of treatment available for them. I hate to think what will happen when the kids on second level treatment start failing, and the time will come.
These are the guys who can help make your tuk-tuk as good as new again. See the black and white version below.
I’ve been busy lately doing things that I hope will have a positive impact here in Cambodia. I’m working on a video project that will educate people about alternative care strategies for orphans and vulnerable children beyond orphanages and children’s centers. There is a rising call in the developing world to move away from institutions toward family based care, and I want to help educate people about the options. I hope to have the video ready by the end of the summer.
I took this shot while I was out gathering scenes of life in Phnom Penh. For some time I have wanted to photograph Cambodians at work at all levels. Cambodia has been cast as a country of endless corruption and poverty, but my overall impression is one of hard work and honesty.
Sovanna Phum, in Phnom Penh, is one of the venues keeping the traditional art of shadow puppets alive and well in Cambodia. As you can see in my portfolio and other posts, the artists at Sovanna Phum make their own small and large shadow puppets. In fact, Kosal, the director, is perhaps the leading master of this art in the country. I took all these photographs at a recent performance of small shadow puppets.
Past the pond and brooding tree
cross the sand and clay muck
where oxen wander
in brush caverns
and gather sticks
from a paddy, baked
lash bundled heaps and enter
water brown as skin
cool as coffee
on a long morning
and float under a brooding tree
and Cambodian sun
I just found out that Sebastiao Salgado shoots digital.
Salgado captures life in photographs without succumbing to nihilism and expressionism. He is subjective, as any artist must be, but each of his subjects and places have an authentic breath and voice. They aren’t co-opted merely to serve an agenda, although his work has a strong point of view. I don’t want to compare myself with Salgado, but he encourages me to take photographs that communicate truth in life, and not to worry so much about being fashionable.
The fact that he has moved from film to digital, despite reservations, proves again that photography is not about equipment, and the best documentary photography doesn’t have to be done on a Leica (he currently uses a Canon and converts the best images to film negatives before printing).
I would love to sit down for coffee together and learn more about what he sees in pictures. We have lots of good coffee shops here in Phnom Penh…
Shadow Puppets: Last night behind the screen at Sovannna Phum