In an age and country where we fret about the merits of organic versus inorganic, worry about toxins in toys, and debate the merits of “Eat, Pray, Love,” we sometimes need a reality check about how the rest of the world lives. You can get a glimpse of real life in one corner of Asia in “Carrying Cambodia” (Visionary World Ltd; $18 on amazon.com), a collection of 144 images shot by two photographers who are enchanted by the country’s street culture.
Cruise through the pages of their softcover book and discover just how colorful and resourceful Cambodians can be. Each photo is a trip in itself.
There’s a family of six perched on a motorbike built for two. Need to move a refrigerator, mattress or couch? No problem; just balance them on a motorbike and go. Getting IV fluids? You drive and a friend holds the bag.
Both photographers are world travelers and have intense interest in Asian cultures. Irishman Conor Wall, 30, came to Cambodia while en-route to Australia in 2005.
“The moment I crossed the Thai border into Cambodia for the first time, I knew there was something special about this country,” he wrote in an e-mail. “The longer I stayed, the more of the language I learned and the easier it was to be accepted into people’s lives. (I wanted to) capture everyday people doing everyday things.”
Most of Wall’s photos were taken from the back of a motorbike. Others were captured from bridges, the roof of a mini bus and while on foot. The photos were to appear in a book on Asian transportation published by Hans Kemp, but “it was near impossible to minimize my selection,” Wall said. “After seeing the variety of Khmer transportation… Hans decided to scrap the original book idea and concentrate on Cambodia. Once he pitched the name ‘Carrying Cambodia’ to me, I knew it had to be done.”
Wall met Dutch-born Kemp, 47, a much published and exhibited photographer, at a festival in Phnom Penh in 2008. They went for a beer and have been friends and professional associates ever since. Kemp also spent hours on motorbikes to capture traveling Cambodians riding and driving every sort of downsized, motorized and non-motorized transportation.
“Life in Cambodia, as in S.E. Asia in general, takes place on the street and not so much behind closed doors as in the West,” Kemp said in an e-mail. “That makes it interesting for a photographer. There is always something to see.”
Cambodians make such wonderful subjects because they have a “welcoming and open attitude, as long as you show appreciation for their country and are willing to smile a lot.”
The veteran photographer has some advice for novices.
“Photography cuts out all the senses but sight,” Kemp said, “so you have to exaggerate by getting close, using a different perspective, cutting out all the clutter … ”
Have a traveler on your gift list? Consider the Glass Atlas, unique glass-dome paperweights that hold satellite views of some of your favorite places. Visit www.GlassAtlas.com and see high-resolution images of available choices, including San Francisco Bay area, Lake Tahoe, the Grand Canyon and New Zealand.
“The idea for the Glass Atlas came when I saw the imagery that NASA/USGS (United States Geological Survey) was producing,” said Kathryn Matthew, an advertising artist who co-founded the company. “This imagery was actually data that my business partner, Elizabeth Jeronimus, was using for urban planning. I was enchanted by the exquisite palette of colors and the graphic patterns.”
The women call their domes “a beautiful fusion of art and science.” Each comes in a clever eco-friendly wooden crate with a fact sheet about the specific image. Personalize your gift with engraving. Normally $49, the Glass Atlas is on sale for $39.
E’Louise Ondash is a veteran, award-winning journalist who was an investigative reporter, feature writer and columnist for the Times Advocate and the North County Times. She has written travel features for The Coast News since 2003.