Reinhard Weber didn’t have any problems getting photos of Cambodians when he came to the Kingdom on a four-week trip last August.
The freelance journalist and TV producer from Munich, Germany, found the Cambodians he encountered to be more than happy to pose for photos whenever he pulled out his camera.
“Nobody said no. The people were very, very open, very kind and not afraid,” Weber recalls, adding that he hadn’t encountered the same degree of enthusiasm from people he has tried to photograph in other places he has visited on his travels.
An exhibition of Weber’s photos, Faces of Cambodia, which is on display in February, conveys the friendliness that he experienced while traveling around the Kingdom.
Weber rented a motorbike in Kampong Cham and traveled on a small ferry to Koh Pbain, where he came across a huge celebration. When he entered the village, he initially thought it was a wedding. A young girl approached Weber and explained that it was the birthday party of her 80-something grandmother.
“She invited me to visit the celebration and to say hello to her grandma and grandpa in the livingroom of their house and take photos. She was so incredibly hospitable,” he says.
Being so readily accepted by the people he photographed left Weber fascinated with Cambodia, he says, especially given the socio-economic circumstances of the people he met and the country’s conflict-ridden past that affected so many Cambodians.
“They do not have much, but they make the best of it. Their past could make them sad, but they are happy,” he says. “The many small stories with local people made my trip through Cambodia a truly unique experience.”
Weber, who makes short documentaries for German public TV, decided to make a trip to Cambodia after two of his friends convinced him it was a trip that he had to make someday. “They showed me their pictures and told me their stories, and I was thrilled. I stayed several times in Asia in Malaysia and Thailand, I like Asia, but I had never stayed in Cambodia.”
Weber was able to secure some good connections with Cambodian people and institutions through his friends. “Reinhard did not only do the ordinary sightseeing, but was able to get involved in local birthday parties or Buddhist ceremonies and catch the soul of real Cambodia with his camera,” says Michael Scholten, a German freelance photojournalist based in Phnom Penh who has been organizing photo exhibitions at The FCC in Phnom Penh in recent months.
Initially, Scholten says, the plan was to simply display his own photos of Cambodia and those taken by eight Cambodian children, who took part in his photo workshop in 2009. “When I found out that the waiting list for photographers at the FCC was not as long as I had expected, I considered it a great chance for some friends and colleagues to present their photos in an exhibition as well.”