When German television producer Ina Spogahn came to Cambodia to film a documentary and take photographs, she had little intention of displaying her work publicly.
“The pictures she took were for her private pleasure,” says Michael Scholten, a Phnom Penh-based photo-journalist from Germany who will curate a series of monthly photo exhibitions by German photographers (including himself) at the FCC Phnom Penh over the next four months.
But a tuk-tuk accident in Siem Reap left Spogahn with a broken leg, which altered her original travel plans and ultimately redefined the Cambodia that she would soon uncover.
While recovering from the accident, Spogahn befriended Somieng Hoeurn, a monk at Wat Damnak. With a saffron-robed friend as her guide, Spogahn was given an intimate introduction to the incorporeal world of Buddhist ceremony.
“She had access to some interesting places. She’s a great photographer,” Scholten says. “She wanted to show the positive side – the good side – of Cambodia.”
Spogahn embraced the opportunity. “I had the feeling of plunging into a new world, which is a once in a lifetime experience,” she says, adding “I was deeply impressed by the friendliness and excitement of the people while taking pictures.”
Born in Bocholt, Germany, in 1985, Spogahn has worked as a television producer in Berlin since 2005. Her work has also taken her to Australia, New Zealand, Asia, Central America and Africa, where she has made documentaries for German television and other media.
Spogahn’s documentary work in Cambodia looked at Swiss and German charities operating in Cambodia. She produced one project about the SALT Academy in Battambang, founded by Swiss citizen Samuel Schweingruber, and his football playing Mighty Girls.
A 12-minute-long film was broadcast worldwide on Deutsche Welle in Germany in June 2012.
Spogahn also filmed German Colonel Peter Willers with his landmine clearing team in Beng Mealea and German lawyer Dr. Siegfried Zinkeisen, who built a school in Peak Sneng. Her ambition was to make films about foreigners who are investing in Cambodia’s future.
While in Cambodia, she spent more than two months in Phnom Penh, Siem Reap, Preah Vihear, Battambang, Sihanoukville and Koh Kong.
“There are many beautiful sides to Cambodia, so it is not difficult to show them,” the photographer says. “The challenge was to show the truth and not create a dream world.”
Spogahn plans to return to Cambodia, however, she won’t be in the Kingdom to see her own photos on display, Scholten says.
“She’s a little sad that she can’t see her own exhibition.”