After 27 years of working in the profession, Mak Remissa has been recognized on the international stage as a famous Cambodian artistic photographer who produces creative works with an educational meaning.
On May 31, the Embassy of France in Cambodia posted on its Twitter page recognition of Remissa’s artwork after he received the medal of Chevalier of “Arts and Letters”, which pays tribute to 25 years of images of rare plastic and poetic quality, inspired by the history and culture of Cambodia.
“Moving decoration ceremony for Mak Remissa, a Khmer artist-photographer whose work is recognized worldwide,” the Embassy captioned on its post alongside photos of the award ceremony.
The senior Khmer photographer told Kiripost that it is an honor and delight to receive appreciation for his photography from France, a country that is famous for art and culture across the world.
The journey to a passionate path
Born in Phnom Penh to parents who worked as teachers, Remissa grew up as the second child of three brothers and one sister. After his father died during the Pol Pot regime, he moved to Kandal province with his mother and siblings to start a new life.
As a child, he loved drawing and painting, and followed his passion in art by mastering his knowledge through education. In 1993, he received a Fine Arts degree from the Royal University of Fine Arts.
He went on to learn about photography at the same university under the support of the Arts Cambodge Association and received a degree in photography.
“Actually, I love painting but when I learned how to photograph, I myself also fell in love with it. I kept my passion for photography by continuing to learn about it more,” he said.
After graduating in 1996, he got his first job as a photojournalist at French-language newspaper, ‘Cambodge Soir’, in Phnom Penh.
A year later, Remissa received a scholarship to study photojournalism in Thailand, organized by the Indochina Media Memorial Foundation. He returned to a full-time job as a photojournalist with Cambodge Soir, which he enjoyed for 25 years.
During that time, he had the opportunity to work as a freelance photographer for various national and international organizations in Phnom Penh, including UNDP, UNESCO, UNICEF, the EU, World Bank, and the Phnom Penh Post, among others.
There are two types of photography – journalism photography and artistic photography – according to Remissa, who said he works in both.
Journalism photography vs artistic photography
During an interview with Kiripost, Remissa explained the differences between journalism and artistic photography. Photojournalism is an art of photography that captures events that happen in society. These are usually used in news and media articles.
Artistic photography is when photographers can create freely and independently from their creative concepts.
“In journalism photography, we take photos following events that happen in reality. Artistic photography is when we take photos that follow our heart and favorite [things],” he said.
After experiencing both sorts of photography, Remissa said he prefers artistic photography as he has more freedom to express his own creative self and emerge it into the art.
“I prefer artistic ones because I can take photos that follow my heart, ideas and visions. So, I work cheerfully in it,” the 56-year-old said.
He added that the challenge of taking artistic photos is the requirement to have broad ideas and knowledge about what is happening in society and global concerns to come up with inspiration and imaginative concepts.
“Photography in an artistic way requires ideas. Our challenge is finding ideas and the need for a good feeling to do this type of work,” he said.
“We need to learn a lot to know how revolutionary the world and art are, and what people value. We also need to understand what aspects the world now faces. We need to know what is important now, like in the journalism field. What is significant that the world is encountering? What are the worries of global citizens? So, we raise those matters and demonstrate them through our photos,” he added.
Remissa noted that photography is a powerful form that can influence the way people communicate in both positive and negative ways. However, if the user knows how to use it in the right way, photos can have a positive impact on society.
In the digital age, with the uprising of using social media platforms, photos are popular for a variety of purposes. According to Photutorial’s data, there are an estimated 136 billion indexed images on Google Image Search in 2023. The number of indexed images could reach 382 trillion by 2030.
“Today is a social media era, consisting of photos that are more attractive to audiences easily. It means when we see one photo, it represents 1,000 to 100,000 words and is convenient to understand,” he said.
While emphasizing that the photography field in Cambodia continues to grow, the stalwart photographer still considers the industry to be lacking with regard to copyright issues. This often leads to conflicts between the original owner and the second user.
“We know already that our photography sector is moving to the next level since there are many people who love taking photos. Furthermore, in order to revolutionize photography, we have to know how to use it properly while loving it,” he said.
“We need to make a change and not use the photos of others without respecting the copyrights. It can cause photographers to lack motivation to create more artworks. Therefore, our country cannot be progressive in photography.”
He said copyright is not only important for photography but also for all other art forms. Therefore, it is necessary to respect copyrights to allow Khmer artists to innovate new artworks, which leads to the country to flourish in the field of art.
Remissa added, “As long as artists’ artworks continue to get stolen for free without any protection, no one will want to pursue creating artworks anymore. Cambodia cannot keep developing our arts like this.”
He suggested that to raise the quality of the photography field in Cambodia like in European countries, photographers have to study techniques more deeply and understand the value of photos and the meaning in the long run.
Photography can be used in many sectors, such as education, health, hospitality, and public policy, to spread messages and awareness to the public that are convenient to understand.
“Photography can be used to boost our tourism sector by advertising through photos, so other international countries can get to know Cambodia more,” he said, giving an example.
He also suggested that Cambodia should create a dedicated photography school to educate the next generation of Cambodians in the field.