Cambodia, Breaking the Bonds of History

The main objective of this documentary project is to document the changes effecting Cambodia as it emerges from decades of war, genocide and the Khmer Rouge. Cambodia has become a safe place to live and work and one of the hottest travel destinations over the last decade. We are looking at what happens when a conservative culture collides with the modern world.

Over time most projects change, and develop in ways surprising even to their creators. Research projects particularly, because each new piece of knowledge gained tends to lead to questions rather than conclusive answers. Project already prone to metamorphosis, placed in Cambodia, and based in Siem Reap is perhaps destined to change from its onset. Regardless, our project has changed significantly over the course of our work here.

Most notably, the initial project has diverged into two separate projects. David's work has focused through his experience here on visually documenting life as it occurs in Cambodia. His interests lie in viewing the country thrgouh a lens, and using the lens as an exploratory tool, looking at how people are living from the fishing communities in the south to the rice fields of Battambang and from the tourist-driven infrastructure of Siem Reap to the garment workers in Phnom Penh. His pictures tell a story of the here and now, looking less at the past or the future, seeking rather to display what this moment in Cambodi is like for her people.

Jediah has decided to focus the text-based work on Siem Reap province. While it cannont be called a microcosm for the development of the country because Siem Reap is home to a variety of circumstances which make it unique in Cambodia, it is a valid and interesting case study.

Cambodia has grown in importance to us as individuals in our time here. We have created two projects which share some of what has delighted us in our lives here, some of what initially drew us towards documenting this place. If we can shine a light on some of the unseen places and people in the country, we will have succeeded in our chosen task.

The Photo Book

We have traveled extensively around Cambodia, observing and documenting the lives of Cambodia's citizens. Life outside Phnom Penh and Siem Reap, continues to be largely unobserved by outside eyes. An informal survey of Cambodia's long-term foreign residents aimed at discovering why they stay in Cambodia turns up an interesting result, however: The people from abroad who fall in love with Cambodia fall in love not with the hustle and bustle of Phnom Penh or with the imperial grace of the Angkorian temples but rather with Cambodia's people, her true greatest resource.

The lifesyle differences between the provinces and the cities are immense, but the natural grace and charm of the Khmer people ar a group shines through, whether set against the background of a Phnom Penh slum or a golden rice field outside Battambang. This project aims to capture what life in Cambodia is now, covering a wide range of subject matter, both geographical and cultural. While we cannot hope to document life in each village in Cambodia, we have collaborated to offer and intimate portrait of some lives and places not normally evident to the casual visitor.

Cambodia is an incredibly picturesque place, rich in color, texture, and light. Much of the work done by photographers has been focused on the temples, but we have chosen to aim our work instead on the country and people as a whole, not excluding temples but not exclusively or even primarily focusing on them. We both believe that there is a story as great as that of the Angkor Empire to be told in Cambodia now, a story of peoples' lives as the occur, a story of happiness, tragedy, celebration, and misery all tied together through a once-great culture forced by history to re-invent itself from scratch.

Siem Reap Stories

One the aspects of life in Siem Reap province that fascinates us is that life here exists on an incredible number of levels. In the shadow of five star hotels, people are living lives which are essentially unchanged from those lived here five hundred years ago. A few kilometers from the whirlwind of motorbikes, Toyota Camrys, tuk-tuks and tour buses there are villages which are still practicing subsistence agriculture as a main mode of survival. It as a certaintly that these lives will eventually be swallowed by the modernization of Siem Reap's tourist industry, but what effect will this have on the these people? Will they get a chance to integrate, and if so will they be able to capitalize on the opportunity? What will be lost if these areas and their denizens are consumed by the tourism boom?

The validity of this project rest primarily on the following premise: Most tourists come to Siem Reap for a few days only, the see the temples and shop a bit. Many books are available in the local shops and at home, but most deal with either the temples of the Khmer Rouge years. Both are certainly worthy projects, but no more worthy than a survey of what life is like now, what struggles are faced, what dreams are being dreamt, what successes achieved on a individual and family level by the people who live here. Many visitors would like to have a sense of the people behind the mechanics of life here, and all visitors to any destination should try and gain some insight into the local life. There is very little literature that offers a legitimate look at life in Siem Reap today, a look at the lives of the people upon whom the tourist industry is built.

Without the common people, living traditional lives, the five star hotels could not exist. These bastions of calm and relative modernity are part of an economic chain of life here, one which incorporates farmers and hoteliers, doctors and market stall owners. These lives should be documented, and their stories told. Our text-based book will do this, and do it in an intimate fashion combining their words and our observations in due proportion. It will offer a glimpse of life here behind the scenes, as it were, a glimpse of the celebration and joy ever present in Cambodian life, but also a glimpse of the angst of a society trying to rebuild, and the growing pains inherent in such a process.


Stock Photos
All Photographs by David A. Seaver. © David A. Seaver 1999-2011. All Rights Reserved.
To inquire about future projects, assignments, or to use any of these photos, please contact Vermont Travel Photographer David Seaver