Dr. Walter Keller initially had some reservations about visiting Cambodia over four years ago. But it wasn’t long before the Munich Germany-based dentist and avid photographer became enthralled with Cambodia and set about shooting photos of the many images that fascinated him about the country.
“I hesitated to go to Cambodia, since I expected landmines, poverty and beggars,” Keller recalls.”But when I went there, I was attracted by the smiles of Cambodian people, the beauty of the landscape and the safety of the places I visited during my stay.”
Keller, whose photos from his visits to Cambodia are on display at the FCC Phnom Penh through November, had donated money to a school project in Cambodia before coming to the country to be at the grand opening of the new junior high in February 2008. On the advice of his colleague Dr. Wolfgang Schmidtberg, who has lived in Phnom Penh since coming to Cambodia with UNTAC in the early, Keller returned to the Kingdom in 2009 and became a volunteer dentist at the Angkor Children’s Hospital in Siem Reap.
He now volunteers at the dental clinic every year for two or three weeks at the Angkor Hospital for Children, where children under the age of 16 are treated free of charge.
“It’s the main reason why I return to Cambodia every year. The equipment fulfills western requirements, and the children seem to be braver and capable of suffering than most children in Germany,” Keller says.
Born in 1959 in Germany, Keller first developed a passion for photography in the 1970s after developing a keen interest in black and white photos. The walls of his dental surgery office in Munich are adorned with photos he shot at Angkor Wat, Bayon, Ta Prohm and other temples in the Siem Reap area.
The “Light and Shadow” exhibition at the FCC Phnom Penh is his first photo exhibition in Cambodia.
The 50 photos on display were shot between 2008 and 2011 in and around Siem Reap. They include black and white photos of monks at Phnom Kulen, rays of sunlight in a gangway of Angkor Wat during sunrise and an illuminated Bayon temple when Cambodian singer Bospha Phan performed at an open air concert.
The title “light and shadow” is a reflection of Keller’s inspiration from photographer John McDermott.
“I mean ‘light and shadow’ in the literal sense, not rich and poor or happy and unhappy,” Keller explains. “I play with the presence and absence of light. And I like black and white photos, giving them a more journalistic and documentary look.”
He returned to Cambodia for his fifth trip on Oct. 25. Walking around the streets in Phnom Penh he took photos of crowds around the Royal Palace who were mourning the death of King Father Norodom Sihanouk.
Keller then went on some trekking tours in Ratanakkiri and Mondulkiri provinces before returning to volunteer at the children’s hospital.
His next trip to Cambodia will be in 2013, where he and his wife plan to visit Kep, Kampot, Bokor Hill Station and Koh Kong — where he’ll undoubtedly take lots of photos — in addition to his volunteer work at the children’s hospital in Siem Reap.