Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Cambodia

Photograph of a boy in Cambodia with an AK-47 gunBehind the Scenes: It’s 1989 and the Khmer Rouge are still fighting in Cambodia. Pol Pot’s official reign of genocidal terror has ended, but the aftermath of the “Killing Fields,” as it was coined in the grizzly 1984 film, still lingers.

Jeffrey is in Cambodia with Harry Rolnick, a foreign correspondent for the Bangkok Post. They are there to tell the story of the restoration quietly taking place at Angkor Wat Temple Complex. A handful of scientists from the Archaeological Survey of India have begun work on Cambodia’s most important archaeological site.

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple complex moon riseAngkor Wat, an ancient city built by King Survyavarman II in the 12th century, has taken a beating from years of neglect and non-stop fighting. Khmer Rouge guerrillas have looted temples, decapitated sculptures, and sold the spoils on the black market to raise cash for the war. The site’s exquisite Khmer architecture, which is often compared to that of ancient Greece and Rome in importance, has also been strangled by the encroaching jungle. Vines and roots have damaged structures, causing many of its sandstone temples, reliefs, and statues to crumble.

The restoration of Cambodia’s most important site (and symbol) is a tiny glimmer of hope for a country that has not dared to hope since the Khmer Rouge murdered approximately two million of its people (one quarter of the population).

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple Complex SoldiersBecause the U.S. still has not established diplomatic relations with Cambodia after Pol Pot’s reign of terror, Jeffrey and Harry must first fly from Bankgok, Thailand to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam to obtain a visa to enter the country. A few days later they will backtrack to the capital of Cambodia, Phnom Penh, then they will catch a puddle-jumper plane to Siem Reap, the province in which Angkor Wat is located.

After a hard and fast landing (to avoid gunfire, they are told), they head to the Grand Hotel, the only hotel operating in the area at the time. Tourism has been at a standstill for more than a decade. When the bellman of this dilapidated establishment leads Jeffrey and Harry to their rooms, Jeffrey notices that his bed is pushed awkwardly into a far corner. When he asks about it, the bellman explains, “That is for your safety—in case there is gunfire. Bullets will not be able to hit you over here if they come through your window.”

Photo of Stone statues at Angkor Wat Temple Complex in CambodiaThe next day an interpreter and several Cambodian soldiers meet Harry and Jeffrey on the outskirts of Angkor Wat. The complex is over five hundred acres, and they must walk through the jungle to the temples where the archaeologists are working. The men are told under no uncertain terms may they leave the single narrow path they plying. Live mines litter the landscape everywhere else. Nearby gunfire reminds them that this is no idle warning.

Jeffrey and Harry walk cautiously and stick closely to the Cambodian soldiers who know every inch of the area. The emptiness of Angkor Wat and the heavy air blanketing the jungle creates an eeriness that makes the back of Jeffrey’s neck prickle. Harry continually looks over his shoulder. Even the slightest snap of a twig from a jungle creature or birds taking flight makes them pause. Jeffrey can’t help wonder, How do we know the Khmer Rouge haven’t laid another mine on the path last night and how do we know we won’t be ambushed now?

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple Complex in CambodiaEventually they arrive where the archaeologists are working. The interpreter introduces the men and points out many of the sites wonders, including giant Hindu sandstone faces, exquisite bas-reliefs, and temples covered in roots more massive than each of them. It doesn’t take long before Jeffrey is able to create a powerful visual story about what is taking place here.

After spending the entire day at Angkor Wat, they make their way back out to the other side where a car is expected to be waiting for them. As they reach the outskirts of the site and walk along a road near a small village, they come upon a young boy carrying an AK-47 rifle. This barefoot youngster, who is wearing nothing more than threadbare shorts, is protecting his village against the Khmer Rouge. As he walks under the weight of his gun, his onyx eyes reveal a life that has already witnessed far too much.

Jeffrey can’t help but think back to his own carefree childhood, and tries to swallow the sadness rising in his throat as he gets down on his knees to create this boy’s portrait. He can only hope that peace will come soon to Cambodia, and with it, a return to childhood for this young “man.”

This photograph was created with a Nikon F4, a Nikor 24mm lens and Fuji Velvia film.

Postscript: Jeffrey has returned to Angkor Wat on assignment two more times since his first trip in 1989, and each time he has witnessed it coming back to life more and more. Restoration is now nearly complete and Angkor Wat has been listed as a World Heritage Site, along with Cambodia’s largest tourist attraction. The best part is that Jeffrey has never come across another child carrying an AK-47 rifle in Cambodia.

If you want to learn more about Angkor Wat, click HERE.

Photo of Angkor Wat Temple Complex in CambodiaPhoto of Angkor Bayon at Angkor Wat in CambodiaPhoto of Angkor Wat Temple Complex restored reliefPhoto of a young monk at Angkor Wat in Cambodia

Advertisements

Photos of America from Another Perspective

I don’t need to tell you smart readers what globalization looks like, but clearly it can be amusing at times to see what parts of American culture get transplanted into other countries around the world (at least when it isn’t sad).

Here is a peek at a few images Jeffrey has created over the years showing what happens when American taste lands in other parts of the world.

Photo of the Hard Yak Cafe in Lhasa, Tibet

Lhasa, Tibet (selling yak burgers on the roof of the world).

Photo of McDonald's in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of Denny's in Tokyo, Japan

Tokyo, Japan

Superman in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

Photo of a knock-off Chicago Bulls sweatshirt in Beijing, China

Beijing, China

M & M Billboard in Moscow, Russia

Moscow, Russia

Photo of a Visa sign in Vietnam

Saigon, Vietnam

Photo of a Marlboro billboard in Shanghai, China

Shanghai, China

If you had one wish, what aspect of American culture would you want to share most around the world (if any)? My guess is that it wouldn’t be the Marlboro Man.

Thursday’s Picture of the Week: Indonesia

Photo of a Hindu ceremony in Bali, Indonesia

Behind the scenes: It’s 1992 and Jeffrey is photographing on assignment for Newsweek in Bali, Indonesia. The king’s wife has died, and an auspicious day has finally arrived for her funeral ceremony.

For Hindus, the days between death and ceremony are spent in intense preparation as they organize the myriad details involved in rituals leading up to the cremation. It’s believed the soul of the dead can only leave the body once the body’s five elements of air, earth, fire, water and space have been returned to the cosmos. Once this happens then the soul can depart and find its new life through reincarnation. Mishandling of any small detail can prevent the soul from reincarnating.

Photo of a Hindu funeral floatThe Balinese have spared no detail in this elaborate three-day event, which is taking place in Ubud, the cultural center of Bali.

Jeffrey has been working in Asia non-stop for over a month, and can feel the weight of the pace he’s been keeping—photographing everything from a story on rice in Japan to a feature on the Yangtze River in China to yet another on Beijing’s lively outdoor markets—but he’s also energized by this visually compelling and culturally important event.

As Jeffrey stands photographing next to his friend, Robin Moyer, who is working on assignment for Time Magazine, the two men can’t help but laugh at themselves. Every person in attendance is required to wear traditional dress during this formal ceremony. Photographers are no exception. Not only are both men sporting batik sarongs over their Levis but also Indonesian udengs (wraps) on their heads. While Indonesian men look handsome, the two of them look absurd.

Photo of a Balinese dancer in IndonesiaIt is over 100 degrees with humidity equally as brutal, but Jeffrey pays little attention to the heat. Everywhere he looks he sees a blaze of color. High priestesses carry out blessings and holy water ceremonies, musicians and dancers perform traditional movements, women adorned in vibrant dresses carry offerings atop their heads, and others lead a procession which eventually arrives at the funeral pyre.

When the elaborate pyre is finally lit, it quickly catches on fire and bursts into hot flames. It is this moment the Rajah’s wife’s soul is released into the cosmos to seek its karma and reincarnation.

What Jeffrey witnesses is an awe-inspiring celebration of Balinese culture. Gratitude brews beneath his sweat-drenched udeng as he knows once again that his camera has opened a door to a place and time that he otherwise never would have experienced. 

Photo of Balinese MusiciansThis image was created with a Nikon F4 camera, Nikon 80-200mm lens, and Fuji Velvia film.

To view a few more images from this ceremony in Bali, click here or on the photo of the musicians to the left.

What cultural ceremony or event has stirred your soul? I’d love to hear your most memorable moments!