Posted on October 16, 2015
A few months after my intial four day trip to Cambodia I returned to stay a little more than two months. This time I was able to spend more time around the temples and get out to some of the backroads to see what this country is all about.
I spent the first two weeks in the Angkor Photo Workshop with Karl Grobl. It was here that I learned about storytelling through photography. I had the option of choosing a topic to explore and shoot for the first week in Siem Reap but I left the decision to Karl. I felt that choosing for myself would make the project too easy with my biases coming into play. I would surely choose something I felt comfortable with.
Prior to arriving I learned that the topic for my first week would be Phare, The Cambodian Circus. My preconceived idea of little Cambodian kids running around in clown suits couldn’t have been further from reality. After some research I found that the circus was part of Phare Ponleu Selpak (PPS) in Battambang, Cambodia. PPS is a non-profit Cambodian organization that works with underprivileged kids and families through arts schools, social support, and educational programs.
The circus is just one of the programs offered through the school and it just happened to be where I was going to spend a lot of time during my first week back in Cambodia.
The show that was in Siem Reap while I was there was ‘Eclipse’, the story of how a Cambodian village rejects a young disfigured man. After seeking answers from the Gods he is transformed into a beautiful woman, but behind that beauty is evil. Eventual forgiveness sets the village on a more peaceful path as the story is portrayed through theater, dance, and circus arts.
My first day I spent time photographing the performers as they practiced before their evening show. My plan was to sit and enjoy the show on the first night so I would get a good understanding of the story and see how the performance played out.
These acrobats have been performing together for about a decade. Their dedication is obvious as you watch them fly through the air throughout the performance. The strength and flexibility needed for some of their moves is mind boggling to someone like me that has trouble sitting cross-legged on the floor. They work together in a fluid like manner with their impeccable timing tested time after time throughout the performance.
I ended up going to three performances throughout the week and even after the photo workshop I attended another performance in Battambang while I was there.
Although the performers came from very diverse backgrounds they all had one thing in common. Without the school and the circus their current and future situation would have taken a much different path. A path with very little hope for a bright future.
After I left Cambodia Eclipse travelled to France for three months to train, learn and perform throughout the country. Again in January of 2016 they will travel back to France for two more months.
There are a number of shows that run either in Battambang or Siem Reap. New shows are created and old shows are put to rest. Khmer Metal, another of the current shows, is now touring America. Without the support of the school and the patrons that go to the shows a trip to America would be all but impossible for these performers.
Traveling the world is something that most people in Cambodia could never achieve. The cost of the flight alone could be more than a person earns in two years. These young performers made a choice which changed their lives forever. I am sure the young up and coming performers look to the current show performers and wonder what is in store for them. If Eclipse is any indication these youngsters have a positive experience waiting for them in the coming years.