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Thomas Cristofoletti April 11, 2013

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Cambodia.
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Suger Cane Workers. Koh Kong Province, Cambodia 2012

Thomas Cristofoletti (b. 1980, Italy) is freelance photojournalist  based in Phnom Penh. He has been working in many social video & photography projects in South East Asia (mainly in Cambodia, Thailand and The Philippines) and in Europe, collaborating with different international NGO’s. His photographs have been featured in several international magazines and newspapers including The International Herald Tribune, The Guardian, IL de Il Sole 24 Ore, Afisha Mir Travel Magazine, El Pais, In Style Russia and LaRepubblica.

About the Photograph:

“This was one of the first pictures I took when I arrived in the small village of Chhoyk in the South of Cambodia. After waiting two hours for the sugar cane plantations’ workers to return home, a small truck arrived and immediately, this child stole my attention. His clothes and face were a mess and his body was completely full of ashes. As I tried to get close to him he instinctively huged his little sister and I saw the shot, maybe one of the most interesting and powerful photos I made of the Cambodian sugar cane plantations. In Cambodia hundreds of thousands of people are currently being displaced from their homes, farmlands, forests and fisheries as investors plunder the country for private profit in the name of development. Many families have been forced to send their children to work in the plantations, for less than 2.5 USD per day, after losing their land and their only source of income. ‘Blood Sugar ‘is an ongoing project in collaboration with the Australian photographer Nicolas Axelrod.”

New Geoffrey Hiller Website January 14, 2013

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New World “construction site, Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2011

Editors’ Note: Are websites for photojournalists relevant any more? Yes, I strongly believe they are. In this world of social media we can lose sight of the importance of editing our work. Making photographs seems all too easy these days but an image gains its value from the time spent considering and presenting it as well. This is why I have always required that photographers have a solid website before they are featured on Verve Photo. Facebook snapshots and disposable instagram feeds just don’t cut it. I’d personally like to see photographers put more effort into editing their work and presenting it in the best possible form.

I’m pleased to announce the launch of my redesigned website – 40 years behind the camera. I’ve recently been scanning in prints and transparencies from projects in Harlem, San Francisco, and Eastern Europe, among other places. It’s been a valuable couple months reflecting on my life’s work.

Bio

The photography of Geoffrey Hiller has been published in magazines in the USA, Europe, and Japan including Geo, Newsweek, Mother Jones and the New York Times Magazine. He has completed dozens of photo essays in Asia, Latin America, Europe and West Africa and was on the staff of the Brazilian edition of National Geographic for two years. His award-winning multimedia projects about Vietnam, Eastern Europe, Ghana, Burma, and Brazil have earned recognition from Apple Computer, The Christian Science Monitor and USA Today. He has received grants from the Paul Allen Foundation, the California Arts Council, Regional Arts and Culture Council in Portland, Oregon, among others. Hiller was a Fulbright recipient in Dhaka, Bangladesh in 2008-2009. Most recently he has been working as an international media trainer in India, Burma (Myanmar), and Cambodia.

About the Photograph

“This photo was shot at the New World construction site on the outskirts of Phnom Penh last year as part of a story about new housing development in Cambodia’s capital city. A worker from the countryside rests after a ten-hour shift. Most live on site nearby in what look like squatter camps. After illegal evictions and land grabs, developers go on to build suburban-style housing for the growing upper middle class. I was struck by dramatic changes to this once pristine landscape. Most of these plots were recently farm land and rice fields. Now they are beginning to resemble suburban tracts in southern California, complete with Lexus SUVs parked in their garages.”

Interview with John Vink June 14, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Cambodia.
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Residents stand on a barricade to confront the police moments before the final eviction of the Borei Keila community. Phnom Penh 2012

Editor’s Note:

Earlier this year I had the chance to talk with John Vink, a Magnum photographer based in Phnom Penh. John is a seasoned professional but he epitomizes the new breed of documentary photographer. He felt the need to be closer to the projects he was reporting on, so he picked up and relocated to Southeast Asia in 2000. John has also been an early adopter of digital technology to better tell the stories that are close to his heart. Sure enough, when we got together he was in the midst of developing a photography App about land issues in Cambodia and was enthusiastic about sharing his ideas about the potential for publishing on the iPad. “Quest for Land” was developed by Robert Starkweather and includes over 700 images and extensive text by Robert Carmichael. Each of the 20 sections also features ambient audio and music.

John Vink (b. 1948, Belgium) studied photography at the fine arts school of La Cambre in 1968 and began working as a freelance journalist three years later. He joined Agence VU in Paris in 1986 and won the Eugene Smith Award that year for his work ‘Water in the Sahel’, an extensive body of reportage on the management of water in the Sahel. Between 1987 and 1993 he compiled a major work on refugees around the world; the book ‘Réfugiés’ was published in 1994. John Vink became a full member of Magnum Photos in 1997. In 1993 he started working on ‘Peuples d’en Haut’, published in 2004, which is a series of chronicles of communities with strong cultural identities living in mountainous areas. He has been based in Cambodia since 2000, a country he has visited since 1989. “Quest for Land”, an iApp about land issues in Cambodia was released in May 2012.

About the Photographs:

“I have been working on land grabbing in Cambodia for the last eleven years, hoping it would stop, that the conditions with which the evictions take place would improve, or that the evicted would at least be compensated properly. It is not happening. Evictions go on ruthlessly as the country develops at a rapid pace. And as the frustrations of the victims increase they turn more violent. Clearly, lessons from the past to defuse social tensions are not being learned here. Photography has to explain again and again…Relentlessly…The people standing on a trunk had barricaded the access road to the Borei Keila community from the police who were going to violently evict them a few moments later. It was the end of what could have been an exemplary on-site relocation. But corruption, deceit and greed took the upper hand. Hundreds of families were ‘offered’ land 45 Km out of town. Others were dumped at the same dry rice field with what was left of their belongings, without even the prospect of being able to remain there.”

Interview With John Vink

Geofffrey Hiller: Take me back to the time when you decided to relocate to Phnom Penh. Where were you coming from and what were your reasons for choosing Cambodia?

John Vink: I relocated to Phnom Penh in 2000 after five years in Paris and decades in Brussels. But Paris and Brussels were merely a place to drop the bags between travels. I was on the road close to eight months a year, the four remaining months being dedicated to the darkroom. The major projects I had been working on during that time made me realize that however hard I tried to get involved in them, there was always a moment when I had to leave them behind. I needed more time spent on a story to avoid superficiality. I needed to STAY in one place. Another reason I found to stay in one place is that you don’t have to waste time in airports and squeeze between the other sardines on planes anymore, that you save money by reducing travel expenses and moreover, you reduce your carbon footprint by not hopping on planes. The choice of Phnom Penh came fairly easily as I had been hovering around it since 1989, that it was a city of less than a million and that it is located in an area recovering from a disaster offering a wide array of stories which lie close to my heart. I’m an aftermath person. I mostly come after a disaster takes place, when things try to stabilize. I am attracted to uprooted things and by their reconstruction. Last but not least, Phnom Penh is where I met my wife in late 1999.


Ceremony by renters who were not included in the on-site relocation of Borei Keila. Phnom Penh 2007

GH: At what point in the project did you think you would spend over ten years documenting Land Issues in Cambodia? That’s a long time to stay with a story. Were there times that you felt the work was losing its freshness? How did you motivate yourself to stick with it? When do you know it’s best to move on?

JV: In fact I might be working on it more than the current 11 years. I am still working on land issues. Some of the stories that are in the app are not over yet. The good thing about an app is that you can update it fairly easily. The future versions of “Quest for Land” will have slightly different content, some stories will be updated, pictures will be added. But anyhow I was not working on land issues continually during those 11 years and did quite a few other stories in between. For nearly one year I covered the Duch trial, the first, and maybe the only, Khmer Rouge to be tried. I was the co founder, manager (well, sort of) picture editor and photojournalist of Ka-set.info , a daily updated website with in-depth information about Cambodia (we ran out of money after one year).

As for the freshness part in your question: yes indeed some of these eviction stories could seem repetitive, but they are so on the surface only. There is always a twist, making the latest eviction a bit different from the previous one. The only thing which stays the same is the disarray of the evicted and the arrogance of the one evicting. But here too things are changing: there is now much more resistance. An eviction is not necessarily a ‘fait accompli’. People fight back, get organized. Spotting all those shifts and differences are sufficient motivation to continue, although the main drive remains the fact that evictions should not happen the way they do. The development of a ruined country is a good thing, but it is the development of people which counts.

I don’t know when it’s best to move on because I am moving on all the time. New story ideas develop into something which takes my mind away from the previous one. There are a few in the back of my head, but they haven’t really taken over yet. More likely they may be stories that are extensions of ‘Quest for Land’. It has been like that for many previous stories. ‘Mountain People’ was an extension of ‘Refugees’. ‘Refugees’ is a continuation of ‘Water in Sahel’, where the drought caused big migrations. ‘Quest for Land’ is also an extension of ‘Refugees’. I am for example probing into a story on vulnerability called ‘On the Edge’. People being evicted are thrown on the edge, but so are many others (elderly, children, flood victims…). So I drift from one story to another. Since I am staying in one place things are less abrupt, even more related, flowing into one another.


Boeung Kak Lake residents demonstrate in front of the municipality seeking land for relocation. Phnom Penh 2011

GH:  In the introduction to the Quest for Land App you mention the interplay of form and content and comment that you are more of a “content guy”. Your images strike me as being very personal and visceral. How do I say it? They have a  strong physical sense, as if you are using your entire body as well as your eye to make the photo.

JV: It is really a matter of balance and what the intentions are. What gets precedence: what I talk about or how I do it? Yes I am a content guy. I think content is more important than form. By not much but still… And depending on the context as well: book, exhibition, slideshow, iPad? Form would get a bit more precedence over content in a book and certainly in an exhibition. Obviously it is better to use a good photograph of an interesting situation than a bad photograph. There are good photographs with shallow content. There are good stories poorly photographed. And there are good stories well photographed. I try to do the latter. We all do… And yes indeed I try to do it in a ‘personal’ way. I try to leave my mark on the way I write. I try to take away the routine of reading a photograph. Readers are much more photographically educated nowadays. They don’t read photographs the same way they did 50 years ago. Their eye has been stimulated by an ever increasing photographic vocabulary. They have so many more references. You have to stand out to be noticed, to be appealing or seductive or intriguing, but you don’t have to betray yourself at the same time.

It is difficult. I often doubt if I achieve anything there. It is my biggest struggle. As to the physicality of some of my pictures maybe it has to do with the fact that by now I know many of those people who were evicted, and they know me. We are close somehow… I believe they trust me, and I believe in what they are trying to achieve. I am disturbed by their frustration. I feel that if I take pictures up close that I somehow support them better.


Residents of the Boeung Kak community appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany to intervene. Phnom Penh 2008

GH: Who is responsible for the evictions? What becomes of these people’s lives after they have been relocated and dumped outside of town? How do they survive? Besides the few NGO’s, does the government provide any follow-up services?

JV: Who is responsible? People who put greed and the desire for power ahead of compassion, long-term thinking or even normal common sense, combined with an environment in which the rule of law is still in its infancy. And as the people responsible for the evictions often are the same as those who have political power, obviously support for the evicted does not come from the side of the authorities. Except in a paternalistic way, like dumping a rice bag or two, or an opportunity to strengthen a position of power. The people from Borei Keila, kicked 40Km out of town were for example offered a bus ride to Phnom Penh to participate in the commune elections in their former precinct. Needless to say they were expected to vote for those who promised them they eventually would get a land title… who are the same people who kicked them out in the first place.

Save for a few NGO’s the evicted are basically left on their own, piecing together what is left of their lives. A large fraction of those evicted are much worse off than before and the poverty rate among them has increased. So clearly development does not profit everyone… Only the fact of being pushed out to the periphery of town cuts most of the evicted from their already precarious means of subsistence, or, if they manage to keep the same job, the little daily benefit they make is eaten away by the transportation costs.


Tenants evicted from Dey Krahorm waiting to be assigned a home promised by the 7 NG company. Phnom Penh 2009

GH: Have you been threatened or assaulted by the police for being so persistent? Please explain any specific situations.

JV: Cambodia is one of the easiest places to work as a photojournalist. Correction: a foreign photojournalist. No, I have never been assaulted or threatened. Well… except for that guy looking me in the eyes and passing his finger over his throat during the Sambok Chap eviction or the policeman bruising my stomach with his stick when I tried to get back into the Dey Krahorm eviction site. But that was not so bad. It was a fair and open exchange of different standpoints…

It seems there still is an unwritten law since the presence of UNTAC in 1991 which says: ‘Don’t touch the foreign journalist (he hasn’t got a clue as to what is going on anyhow)’. But the other unwritten law says: ‘Don’t be bothered by the Kmer journalist. You can intimidate or bribe him, lie to him, and when it has to happen for the benefit of someone powerful, you can kill him’. And that happens once in a while. One must remember that Cambodia, for the sake of pleasing the donor countries has to maintain a facade of democracy, a free press being one of the ingredients to that. It is tough being a Cambodian journalist in Cambodia, and, unless one works for a foreign media, very difficult to maintain an ethical integrity.

GH: Witnessing these evictions over and over again must break your heart. Do you have to force yourself to remain detached? Any particular examples of people or families you have bonded with and become friends with?

JV: It doesn’t break my heart. It enrages me. And that motivates me to continue. But I don’t bond with families. They know me, know what I do, why I am there. I know quite a few of them but I don’t bond with them. I rarely even talk to people. I need to keep a distance.

GH: Phnom Penh has rapidly developed during the past 10 years. Is there any connection between these evictions and the growth of tourism in Cambodia?

JV: Except for the very few eviction cases directly related to expanding or to the creation of tourism sites like  the recent concession granted for the construction of a resort in Koh Kong province, there is no direct relation. There might be indirect relations as the powerful people who have a stake in the tourism industry might be the same ones involved in investments in other industries like in the agricultural sector. If one considers that the tourism industry was the first industry which helped Cambodia to climb out of its pit and trigger double-digit economic growth, then yes, tourism being related to growth, growth being related to money, and money being the big motivator for evictions, tourism is related to evictions.

Pete Pin May 14, 2012

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Cambodia, United States.
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Cambodian Wedding, Bronx, New York 2011

Pete Pin (b. 1982, Cambodia/Thailand) is a documentary photographer based in Brooklyn, NY. He was born in a refugee camp on the border of Cambodia and Thailand after the Cambodian genocide and immigrated as a refugee to California in the mid 1980’s. He received his BA at the University of California at Berkeley and later enrolled in the Documentary and Photojournalism Program at the International Center of Photography, where he was awarded the Allan L Modotti Scholarship. Pete purchased his first camera months before embarking on an eight-year PHD program at Berkeley in the Social Sciences and abandoned his doctorate studies to pursue documentary photography. He is a Fellow at the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund and is an Emerging Talent under Getty Reportage.

About the Photograph:

“The photo above is of the wedding of Molly Sopouk and Todd Prom in the Bronx, New York. The image stood out for me for two reasons. First and foremost is this struggle to maintain one’s cultural identity. The unique circumstances of the Cambodian genocide severed the cultural continuity over generations for members of the diaspora community. However, in spite of this, there is an incredible resilience by Cambodian Americans. Second, and this speaks to me personally, I am interested in the physical and cultural space we inhabit as refugees and immigrants. What’s striking about this image, for me, is the boundary between the wedding couple and others, demarcated via the rug in which they are occupying.” (more…)

Miti Ruangkritya March 17, 2011

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Siem Reap, Cambodia 2009

Miti Ruangkritya (b. 1981, Thailand) is a freelance documentary/editorial photographer currently based in Bangkok.  He graduated with an MA in Photojournalism from The University of Westminster. He has participated in the Angkor photography workshop for young Asian Photographers. He has shot for Thai and Asian travel publications and is represented by Millennium Images. His ongoing project, ‘Amulet World’, is a study of Buddhism and its interaction with the rise of the consumerist culture, focusing on the duality between spirituality and commercialism that characterizes the amulet trade in Thailand.

About the Photograph:

This image is from the On the Edge, a project shot on the outskirts of Siem Reap, one of Cambodia’s fastest growing cities. Along this empty highway there is no sign of the tourist commerce and shopping districts that have been fueling the city’s growth. The unkempt open grasslands that surround the city carry an atmosphere of anachronistic indifference, which attracted me to the area. Traveling along the highway one felt time slow down and the noise of the city dissolve. Though it seems an unlikely area to have a picnic, the couple seemed at ease by the lake amongst the dry grass and litter, and ambivalent towards being photographed. The place was hard to define, for some it was a retreat; for others merely a transient stop-off point along a journey; and for me it was a reminder of region that seems unsure of where it was heading. The rural landscape clashing with the inexorable growth of the city.”

Lianne Milton February 21, 2011

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AIDS and needle exchange center. Phnom Penh, Cambodia 2009

Lianne Milton (b.1976, USA) began her freelance career in January 2009 after she was laid off from a newspaper job, the result of challenging economic times in the newspaper industry. Prior she was a newspaper photographer for four years. Since then, she has been shooting for publications such as the New York Times, The Guardian, Los Angeles Times, NPR Digital, among others. She pursues cultural and humanitarian stories,  focusing on the effects of politics on people and their environments, in places, such as, Indonesia, Cambodia, Cuba, Mexico, Guatemala, as well as the U.S. Before her photojournalism career, Lianne studied international relations and languages. She lives in San Francisco, where the City meets the Pacific.

About the Photograph:

“This image is part of a story on drug addiction in Cambodia that I started in November 2009. Drug addiction is a relatively new social issue that began around the mid-1990s. Before, the country had been recovering from decades of conflict. What drives Cambodia’s drug use is the lack of effective drug rehabilitation programs, and the availability of illegal drugs – cheap methamphetamine’s and the highly potent Burmese heroin. Consequently, the government built several drug detention centers in recent years (or re-education centers) to clean the streets of “undesirables,” and rehabilitated by physical activities, such as exercises and military marches. In January 2010 I received rare access into one re-education center. Although initially I had no interest in covering drug addiction. I began to take a look at the issues around addiction in Cambodia, such as poverty and recovery; and understanding their concept of restoring morality, where as in the western world, particularly in the United States, addiction is acknowledged as a disease.”

Lori Grinker July 31, 2009

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Cambodia.
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Chheng recovers after stepping on a landmine in the hospital in Kompong Speu, Cambodia

Lori Grinker (b. 1957) began her photographic career in 1981. Her work has earned international recognition, garnering a World Press Photo Foundation Prize, a W. Eugene Smith Memorial Fund fellowship, the Ernst Hass Grant, The Santa Fe Center for Photography Project Grant, and a Hasselblad Foundation Grant, among others. Her photographs have been exhibited in solo and group exhibitions around the world a including: ICP, The Jewish Museum in New York  and the The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. Between editorial assignments and personal projects, Grinker lectures, teaches workshops, and is on the faculty of the ICP in New York City. She is represented by the Nailya Alexander Gallery in New York and has been a member of Contact Press Images since 1988.

About the Photograph:

“This photo is from a series called  After War: Veterans from a World in Conflict. We hit the mine, four of us, Chheng told me. Now I sometimes get confused and think I have two legs. When I realize that I lost my legs, at first I feel upset. Then I see my friends who also have no legs and I think it is normal.”

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Jeff Hutchens August 15, 2008

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Cambodia.
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Jeff Hutchens was born in Lansing, Michigan in 1978. The son of an American diplomat, he spent his childhood throughout the U.S. and across China, South Africa, and the Philippines. He graduated from Asbury College in Kentucky with a double major in Psychology and Pre-Med but decided to follow his heart into photojournalism. After a series of internships, Jeff was hired by National Geographic Channels International (NGCI) to be their sole staff photographer. After two years with NGCI he decided to continue his career as a freelancer, allowing him to spend more time pursuing personal projects. Jeff has shot professionally on six continents, where he’s faced grizzly bears, lava floes, komodo dragons, and all manner of corrupt officials. From work on the surreality of life in China, to the emotional after effects of the Khmer Rouge regime on Cambodia, to the health of the polar bear population in the Artic. Jeff has won multiple awards in World Press Photo, the NPPA, Best of Photojournalism Competition, POYI and the White House News Photographers Competition.

About the Photograph:

The Khmer Rouge regime rises to power.  Nearly four years later, the entire infrastructure of Cambodia is destroyed.  Millions are tortured and killed.  It is the most lethal per capita genocide of modern times, a darkness that has haunted the country for the last 30 years.  But the darkness may be lifting as the United Nations Khmer Rouge Tribunal attempts to bring healing to a broken country.  The prosecution digs through the faded memories of witnesses while navigating the corruption endemic to Cambodia’s government. I wanted this image to explore the emotional undercurrent of the nation’s capital, as the country wakes from the nightmare of its history and attempts to bring to justice those responsible for the horrors of the its past.  I tried to make these images feel like memories— vague, decontextualized, moody – so this is shot through multiple panes of glass on a street corner — I photographed the situation for about forty minutes before the cop meandered through the left hand side of the frame and everything coalesced.

Amy Thompson March 22, 2008

Posted by Geoffrey Hiller in Cambodia, Ohio University.
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Mr. Lai, Siem Reap, Cambodia

Amy Thompson recently completed her masters in documentary photography from Ohio University and is currently teaching at the Massachusetts College of Art. Amy has  freelanced for The New York Times and has been a featured photographer in National Geographic Magazine. Thompson has lived and worked in North Africa, the Middle East, Europe and Asia. In 2003-2004, she received a Fulbright fellowship to photograph a project in Morocco titled Behind Walls .

About the Photograph:

This is Mr. Lai, one of my favorite people that I came to know in Cambodia. Maybe that’s why I felt comfortable making this photo. I wasn’t actively looking. It was right there beneath me one morning, as I was about to descend the stairs to the hotel lobby. Before dawn that day, Mr. Lai took care of a pack of tourists heading out to watch the sunrise at Angkor Wat. Then he snuck in a nap. He lived in one of the rooms at the hotel along with other staff and would sometimes return to his village for a visit.

He invited me along once, to attend his sister’s wedding. We rode past rice fields for about an hour to get there, on a moped that he borrowed. When I offered money to cover gas, he threatened (smiling) to leave me out in between the fields on a narrow dirt path under the hot sun. We used to meet some evenings to go through his English homework together. The more his English improved, the more likely he might land a job in a fancier hotel with better pay.

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