Guest Post: My Cambodia experience (Trevor)

Note:  This post is written and all photos by Trevor Smith who attended both our Street Photography and Cambodia workshop over a period of two weekends.  Trevor works in Saudi Arabia so had a long journey to be with us, this is his story. - Gary Tyson, Director F8 Photography. (The eyes are the window to the soul...)

After a weekend with Gary Tyson of F8 Photography and rising street photographer Eric Kim on their street photography workshop in Hong Kong, I was brimming with confidence and keen to test myself armed with new skills as well as explore  a different country which is recovering from an extremely brutal past.

Flights all booked and kit checked we were all set, but sitting in Gary’s office waiting to go to the airport....the flight time was approaching fast and Gary, the consummate professional had to tie up any lose ends before the trip, which almost made us miss the flight, so a mad dash to the airport started off the adventure to Cambodia.

The plane doors opened on the airstrip in Phnom Penh onto a sweltering heat that smacks you in the face.  Eventually through Immigration, customs and red tape we fall out into the night heat and manic road system towards our hotel.

(Weather and light was harsh for many landscapes but I tried where I could)

An early rise the next day for a full days shoot, bright eyed, bushy tailed and excited. After a typical English breakfast (you can take the boy out of England but not the …. Well you know).

Gary recalled what was to be our trusty and faithful Tuk Tuk (Motorbike/Mopeds with carriage) driver (Gary has used him many times on his previous exploits), his orders were find us a typical riverside shanty village along the Mekong.

From his vast experience as a Photographer and many visits to Cambodia, Gary briefed us as to the type of photos and the kind of reception we could expect along with all the technical jargon my tiny brain could handle.  Sam (our Tuk Tuk driver acted as translator, explained our presence and intention and always asked people if they minded us photographing them, normally with a promise of a print for them to keep).

(A motley crew...Rocco, RJ, myself and Gary from F8)

It was hugely daunting for me (as well as I suspect for the village dwellers), we were swamped by laughing, excited kids and curious, smiling, coy adults wanting their photos taken by these funny looking people, most are happy to see their face on the LCD screen as this is the closest they will be to being on “TV”, so they were astonished when we gave them a printed photograph.

(kids and villagers around Phnom Penh and Mekong Island)

Two hours whizzed by as did a whole pack of photographic paper used on the portable printer Gary brought along. Photos were dished out to old and young alike and each one was received with pure delight and excitement (what a great idea and a great piece of kit the Canon Selphy 800 printer is).

(Every travel photographer should have one of these printers at all times!)

Back at the hotel we swapped stories and compared images, had lessons on Lightroom and Silver Efex Pro 2), post processing (editing if you prefer), in essence this told Gary what he needed to know about our individual strengths and weaker areas which he could mentor us on, one to one throughout the next few days shooting.

(local villagers greeted us with friendly curiosity)

The next few days were photos, photos and more photos with visits to different villages, markets and pagodas. We also took some time to visit the infamous and very solemn S21 prison and killing fields which I’m not going to dwell on as this was a very sombre experience that contrasts with the vibrance of life now prevalent in Cambodia.

(the infamous S21 prison camp)

One of the days we took a trip to a Buddhist commune, which had lots of homeless people given shelter and food by the monks, this included children that were being schooled when we arrived.  They took (I’m guessing) a welcome break to afford us some photo opportunities.

(children living with the monks at the Pagoda)

Every Buddhist male is expected to become a monk for a period of his life, optimally between the time he leaves school and starts a career or marries. Men or boys under the age of 20 may enter the Sangha as novices nowadays they may spend as little as  1 week or 15 days  to accrue merit as monks. These communes/monasteries are the heart and soul of such communities.

(a very proud child monk)

That particular Monastery was deemed quite “Rich” in comparison to many.  Sam our tuk tuk driver suggested we take a trip onto 'Mekong Island' which was a completely different way of life for both residents and Monks alike much more rural but none the less spectacular and humbling. The moment we arrived (and pushed the Tuk Tuk up the dirt tracked hill) we were greeted by mopeds full (3, 4 and sometimes 5 passengers) of happy, smiling faces that followed us up the track waving all the way and of course riding ahead to tell everyone else. Young and old alike were out waving.

(shooting the kids on the island)

(villagers greet us with Gary from F8 in the background shooting us working)

After several interesting photo opportunities along the way we arrived at the “poor monastery” which looked deserted less a strong looking old man sweeping the courtyard. Sam did his thing and the old gent said it was okay to take photos as long as we asked before snapping someone.  After 10 minutes of snapping the old man we heard youthful giggling coming from just around the corner. Gary led the way and asked the monks (aged around 17 - 20) if we could photograph them upstairs in their accommodation from where they gazed down at us, which was a simple would structure without decoration or paint etc.

At one of the poorer Pagodas on Mekong Island)

Unfortunately the batteries ran out on the printer so we vowed to return the next day with photos (which we took down the local print shop and printed in large format as they were particularly patient with us, taking so much of their time).  We returned with the photos and an offering of a 50kg bag of rice (which we know helps feed the monks and the people living around the monastery). We received a blessing from the main monk (excuse terminology). Further up the track there were female Monks and some field workers which again provided some great photo opportunities.

(I can't beleive he chose the same colour as me...:-))

Before heading back to Hong Kong I thought I better get a traditional shave and haircut!

(street barbers give you the best shave and haircut for 2 US dollars!)

Then it was time to fly back to smoggy Hong Kong came far too quick and although I cant put my finger on the reason why, I was very sad to leave Cambodia.

I was completely blown away to see such poverty and yet the amazing people therein, always had a smile and warm greeting as long as you were willing to spend the time of day with them.  A note here is DON’T JUST ARRIVE, SNAP AWAY AND DRIVE OFF AGAIN, its not polite and they are humans with their own pride and feelings regardless of their situation. Great people that have suffered much and continue to do so, but they are amongst the friendliest I have ever come across.

I left Gary in Hong Kong to fly back to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia via Singapore which gave me much time to reflect on the previous weeks, Hong Kong and street photography, Phnom Penh and environmental photography along with the people (both photographers and the photographed).

I have to say I have been lucky enough to travel extensively, been on many courses/workshops and had many memorable travel experiences but this was by  far the best experience.  So a big thanks to all but a massive thanks and huge thumbs up to Gary Tyson and F8 Photography.

Roll on the next trip……..Vietnam?? Hmmmm :-)


Final note from F8:

Gary, the Director of F8 has also written a blog post about his experience, that can be seen by clicking here.

Another of the workshop attendees, Rocco, has also written a blog post about his experience, you can read that here.

Also, Gary's assistant RJ wrote a blog post about the same trip, that can be found here.

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F8 Photography provides commercial photography and training across Asia, with workshops on Street Photography and other photography and video training courses, more details can be found via the ‘courses and workshops’ link and upcoming events via the front page of our website.