At a Glance
Stairs and Surrounding everywhere in Cambodia, black-and-white photography by Doris Boettcher. Opens October 11, 2007. Opening reception October 17, 6 to 9 p.m. Exhibit closes November 8, 2007.
The FCC Permanent Collection, four decades of Cambodian history in photographs.
For most of the last year, Phnom Penh photographer Doris Boettcher has been obsessed with staircases. If that seems like seriously silly subject matter, think again. Once you climb past the initial oddness, it’s clear that Boettcher is on to something.
It all started during a walk around the neighborhood with her trusty Rolleiflex. On Street 136 in downtown Phnom Penh, she noticed a new school with gleaming rows of curiously angled stairways encircling the building. Struck by the nautical, ship-like appearance, Boettcher took steps to capture images of all manner of stairs, in all manner of settings.
“If you think about it, in most other countries stairs are inside the buildings, but here they’re outside. And there are many types, some are steep like at Angkor, and some are circular and spiral. Now, every time I go out, I see stairs,” she says. “It’s the life that surrounds the stairs, too. This is very important: some are built as ramps for mopeds, some have clothes drying on them or children playing on them. They’re alive.”
Characteristically, it’s a vision unique to Boettcher, a native of Germany who has for years turned everyday settings into exotic, alluring locales. The result of her latest fascination is her third exhibition in Cambodia entitled “Stairs and Surrounding everywhere in Cambodia,” being shown at the FCC Phnom Penh from October 11 to November 8.
A tour of her Dorithy Gallery (a composite of the names Doris and Chanthy, her business partner) proves she did her research. Hanging in frames, arranged in montages, and strewn on tabletops, are striking black-and-white photographs of all types of steps and stairways. Suitably, they’re arranged by where they lead. Some sprawl up the sides of gritty, urban tenements, others glide into rural stilt homes and others lead solemnly into ancient Buddhist temples. Without ever entering the building, the photos hint at mysterious, sometimes harmonious, interiors.
Boettcher has lived in Phnom Penh full-time since 2004. She’s been a tour guide, worked at the National Library and most recently launched Dorithy Gallery, open on the first Saturday and Sunday of each month. She’s held numerous shows, including work on the Angkor temple complex and a photographic journey down the Mekong River from Laos. Some of her images of Angkor were selected for the 2007 Heritage Watch calendar. Her life’s two big passions, she says, are traveling and photography.
“Traveling and taking pictures means being open to past and present, about culture, nature, and people in each country. I have been taking photos with my Rolleiflex camera to keep them in my mind and documented for other people,” she says.
Her Rolleiflex camera is totally retro, hardly the digital gear of the contemporary shutterbug. Box-shaped, jet black and quite big, it looks like an antique, and she says “it must be carried around like a baby.”
Even though there is only one shop in the country that can develop the film, she prefers the rich black-and-white images the decades-old device produces.
“For years I did color, but my beginning was black and white. Now I’ve returned to black and white,” she says. “When you shoot in black and white, you look more for the perfect subject.”
An opening party for “Stairs” will be held October 17 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the FCC Phnom Penh.