Eric de Vries likes taking pictures in Cambodia.
In fact, the native of Netherlands has spent the last nine years shooting photos throughout the kingdom.
The acclaimed photographer is currently holding an exhibition at the Raffles Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap. “Retrospective Cambodia 00/09” features de Vries’ work from when he was either living in or visiting Cambodia.
“I chose the best pictures I took from that period,” de Vries says.
The exhibition includes photographs that de Vries shot of various landscapes around the country, the Angkor temples and the standoff last year between Cambodian and Thai troops near the Preah Vihear temple.
When de Vries visited Preah Vihear, there were not any clashes between troops, as Cambodia and Thailand attempted to resolve the dispute diplomatically.
“We — my assistants and I — had a great time up there with the troops,” he recalls. “It was more like boredom and spending time (for the soldiers) to grow vegetables, and they were happy that someone was around with a camera.”
A resident of Siem Reap, de Vries does fine art, commercial, documentary and news photography. He and a business partner run a café/gallery in Siem Reap where much of his work is on display.
The relatively slow pace of Southeast Asia and his view that “Cambodia is a photographic heaven” are among the reasons he originally decided to come to the country.
His first encounter with Cambodia occurred in 2000, when he traveled around Southeast Asia for three months. When de Vries initially visited Cambodia, he recalls how “there was something” about the country that made him want to come back for a much longer stay.
“The people, the countryside, and the temples … I was surprised by (Cambodia’s) beauty and all the smiling Khmers,” de Vries says.
He made annual visits to Cambodia before deciding to take up residence in Phnom Penh in late 2007.
Since relocating to Cambodia, de Vries has had more than a few memorable moments as a photographer. Not surprisingly, the temples around Angkor Wat were among those memorable experiences. The Preah Vihear standoff and his documentary series, Hello Darling, about the working girl bar scene in Phnom Penh, are other fascinating encounters he’s had as a photographer in Cambodia.
Born in the Dutch city of Arnhem, de Vries developed a fascination with photography when he received a camera as a birthday present when he was 14. There were more and better cameras for presents on subsequent birthdays, and he eventually decided that he wanted to become a professional photographer.
While de Vries studied at a photography school in the Netherlands for two years, he says many years of practice on his own were what really allowed him to hone his skills.
After living in Phnom Penh, de Vries eventually moved to Siem Reap and got married to a Cambodian woman before he and his wife had a daughter named C’moon.
The 49-year-old has lots of photography work in Cambodia lined up for the coming years, and he says he plans to stay in the country for the foreseeable future.
“So I have no plans of going back to the Netherlands,” he says.