Photos & History

Phnom Penh Photo Festival Returns to Capital

Phnom Penh Photo Festival is making a return for its 13th edition From October 27 to November 27, and it promises to be bigger and better than ever before
Workers install photos on the wall of the French Embassy in Phnom Penh, October 7, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa
Workers install photos on the wall of the French Embassy in Phnom Penh, October 7, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Phnom Penh Photo Festival is returning for its 13th edition and remains faithful to its principles and, above all, the need for exchange. In addition to international exchange between Europe and Asia, it will look internally to Cambodia through the “Intersection” project featuring four young women from Phnom Penh and Siem Reap who will work on the same topics.

They will link with the recent and unpublished creations of artist Jean-Baptiste Phou, whose square, black and white self-portraits are a novelty on the country's art scene, as well as views of the city at dusk at Channal Sean, the color self-portraits of Vannak Khun in an empty city during lockdown, and with the creations of four young women working in collaboration on food-related issues.

The Asian presence will be completed with the sculpture, installation, and photography by Singaporean Zen Teh, which invites us to reconsider our relationship with nature and among others with the forest.

At dusk, city views by Sean Channal
At dusk, city views by Sean Channal

On the outside fence of the French Institute, large-format photographs will celebrate the centenary of the birth of King Norodom Sihanouk, a key figure in Cambodian politics from 1941 to 2004.

This year’s festival will see a guest country put in an appearance in the form of the Swiss Confederation, which will occupy the spaces of F3 (Friends Future Factory) in the heart of the capital. With 10 artists, some famous, others young, and an original presentation that shows the great tradition of Swiss graphic design, it is also a great opportunity to see the diversity of today’s practices in the field of images. A screening of Swiss art videos during one of the evenings of the festival will complete this set.

Khun Vannak,​ an independent photographer and currently a volunteer communication officer for the Phnom Penh Photo Festival, told Kiripost that this year, the Festival is going to take place on an enormous scale to celebrate as it runs during the King’s day with more artists and exhibits, including additional activities like documentaries, movies and photos showcasing in five places.

People walk near photos of late King Norodom Sihanouk displayed on the wall of the French Embassy, October 7, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa
People walk near photos of late King Norodom Sihanouk displayed on the wall of the French Embassy, October 7, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa

“Because this year's festival is going to be celebrated right on the King’s special day [King’s Coronation day], to mark the 100th anniversary [of his accession to the throne]. We are going to showcase his big photos along the outer fence of the French Embassy," Vannak said.

The 13th edition of the Phnom Penh Photo Festival takes place at Ambassade de France au Cambodge, Institut Français du Cambodge-France institution, Bophana Center, Friends Futures Factory and Sra'Art. In total, it features many installations from more than 10 artists: three Cambodians, one Khmer-French, and other from Chile, Singapore, France, and Europe.

All the photos will be launched from 27 to 29 of October as grand opening days of the festival, Vannak said.

He added all the photos will be displayed for one month. The event will be celebrated from October 27 to November 27 and there will be tuk tuks to deliver audiences to visit the photo works as the event had done in previous years.

The Festival is organized by Phnom Penh Photo Association (PPPA), a nonprofit, non-governmental organization focused on photography skills, to develop training opportunities for young photographers.

“Since the event is always celebrated annually, we have the purpose to let our local citizens get to know more about the art of photos. Furthermore, it aims to connect Khmer artists with other foreign artists that are from other countries and exchange their experiences,” Vannak said.

The Festival is recognized as Asia's oldest and most famous photo festival internationally, according to Vannak.

A motorist drives past a series of photos displayed on the wall of French Embassy, October 7, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa
A motorist drives past a series of photos displayed on the wall of French Embassy, October 7, 2022. Kiripost/Siv Channa

Nudity Paves the Way for Self-Acceptance & Exploration

Jean Baptiste Phou, 41, a Cambodian-French independent artist, told Kiripost this is the very first time he will showcase his work after joining a photo workshop. He developed his ideas during the workshop and was selected by Christian Caujolle, artistic director PPPA, to exhibit at the festival.

There will be about 30 photos exhibited at Sra'Art Gallery during the festival.

The photos are self-portraits that explore who he really is. As he is also a writer and theater director for many years, he has written and illustrated many people’s stories. Now, he wants to be a self-illustrator and conduct self-exploration by taking photos of his own body with nudity.

“Usually, I write about people's and other people’s stories. But more recently, I decided to write about myself, my life, and my experience. I wanted to do the same with images. Because I think whenever we take pictures, we are always curious about the other people, the world, about the surroundings,” he described.

He added, “About the camera, we often use it to show the weakness of what is outside of us. But for me, I wanted to take the camera and turn it toward me and look inward and use this medium to explore my own body and my image."

“I think even we sometimes don’t know ourselves clearly. I think the camera is just a tool that I can use to look at small details I never pay attention to. For example, if I take it very close up to my arms, my feet, my eyes, elbows. It’s like I use this tool to explore, take on a journey with myself,” he said.

Hand by Jean Baptiste Phou
Hand by Jean Baptiste Phou

Through this exhibition, he also hopes to motivate other people to be more accepting of their bodies, self-image and explore themselves more.

“I think if I can let other people do the same, I would be very happy at the idea of other people also using the camera to look inward and explore their own image of themselves and to be more accepting and not be shy,” he said.

He continued, “I work with nudity, it’s like I really show my whole body but not in a sexual way. It’s more like the way I accept my whole body and how I can bear to show it to the rest of the people. Because I think when it comes to the body or the naked body in Cambodia, society does not think it is appropriate.”

However, he enjoys trying to do new things such as revealing nudity that most people in Cambodia still consider not a good thing. This Cambodian-French artist sees it as a unique way to be part of being fulfilled in peace of mind and gives him the freedom to be who he is.

Dusk City Views

Cambodian artist, Sean Channal, 25, is a young talented photographer who has just graduated from Norton University, majoring in Creative Multimedia. His hobbies are to capture photos related to art, traveling, and Cambodian livelihoods to promote the country to the world through his creative images.

He won the Sony World Photography Award​ in 2020 and 2021, and many other photo competition programs.

This year is also the first time that showcase his photos in the Festival with his 12 photos, under the theme of ‘At Dusk’. They capture Phnom Penh city views after dusk when there is little light.

“I think most of the photographers might have overlooked that special light at that time [late evening] that the light was shining a bit in the dark together. The time to take those kind of photos is short. Therefore, I want to illustrate to other artists to grab a chance to capture that special moment and develop a series of photos,” Channel said.
At dusk, city views by Sean Channal
At dusk, city views by Sean Channal

Channel wants to see other photographers to be more open to accepting new photography techniques and push the art of photography in Cambodia to the next level.

Last but not least, he encourages other citizens to visit the photo exhibition and open their hearts to understand the artworks.