The silhouette of a tiny Cambodian turtle hangs suspended in perpetual motion against inky, swirling bubbles.
A grubby Indonesian girl, staring forlornly at something unseen beyond the camera, fingers the padlock fastening her ankle to the floor of an opium den.
The rear view of an oversized Minnie Mouse wanders incongruously through tendrils of mist creeping through a Chinese village.
From the artistically abstract to the hauntingly graphic, these are among the stills that will take centre-stage at November’s Angkor Photo Festival in Siem Reap. The annual event, launched by a team of predominantly Western photographers in 2005 with the intention of fostering emerging Asian talent, showcases poignant works inspired by the cultures, politicking and ideologies of both East and West.
Today, far more than a simple exhibition, it is fast becoming a creative powerhouse promoting the region’s most gifted photographic artists to a global audience.
Not only does the festival showcase the work of Asia’s most promising young shutterbugs, alongside that of their counterparts from other parts of the globe, it also serves as their “stepping stone” to international exposure, according to programme coordinator Françoise Callier. A series of public events, to which entry is entirely free, the main focus is in fact the shutterbugs themselves.
A year after making its debut, the festival — the first of its kind in Southeast Asia — founded its own NGO. Anjali Children’s Photo Workshop offers underprivileged children, many of whom previously begged on the streets to support their families, the chance to catch up on their schooling while being tutored in the art of professional photography.
The students’ work now forms a core part of the festival, which this year comprises a lively programme of 12 indoor and outdoor exhibitions, seven evenings of slideshows and free Angkor Photo workshops at which internationally renowned professionals will give hands-on training to 30 of the region’s recently discovered prodigies.
Since its inception in 2005, more than 180 young photojournalists — from Cambodia, China, Korea, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Laos, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and Nepal — have passed through its doors, perfecting their art en route. For many, the skills they mastered under the festival’s curatorship have proved a vital catalyst in forging international careers.
The proportion of photographers from within the region has increased every year since 2005: of the 110 exhibiting this year, 60 hail from Asia. Among the masters is Mak Remissa, he of the suspended turtle, who is widely regarded as one of the most successful Khmer photographers of his generation.
A graduate of Phnom Penh’s Royal Fine Arts School, his work has been shown in France, Canada and the US. One of his most celebrated series, inspired by the traditional Khmer proverb “When the water rises, the fish eats the ant; when the water recedes, the ant eats the fish,” reflects “a terrible disaster for human beings as a result of mutual oppression according to a specific situation. Eventually, no real success prevails for any group,” he said.
This year’s exhibits are as diverse as they are dynamic. Florence-born Pietro Paolini captures the technicolour daubs of inmates’ clothing against the drab walls of Bolivia’s notorious San Pedro Prison in La Paz. In War for Freedom – Libya, Oslo’s Eivind H Natvig, a documentary photographer, perfectly preserves the image of a rebel fighter at an army base in Benghazi “sorting ammunition as he prepares for conflict.” Other highlights for 2011 include accounts from Japan’s devastating earthquake and tsunami, along with a special focus on Asian street photography.
The Angkor Photo Festival will be held from November 19-26 in Siem Reap. Complete schedules are available from the APF Web site.