Beautiful & powerful portraits from Cambodia

Face of Cambodia

From 2013 until the recent 2020 Covid crisis I conducted daily photo tours in Cambodia. During those many photo walks, I was able to meet locals from all walks of life. This presented a privileged circumstance to photograph these portraits in and around Phnom Penh on a daily basis. Some images are taken from the local Cham minority living on the banks of the Mekong river. Some are from the city markets and inner streets or alleys. Often we visited hidden locations such as temples or monastery and the slums of Phnom Penh.

Here are some of the successful images published from our Cambodia Photo tours. You can find many more great pictures from our photo tours here

This portrait illustrates the Cambodia of the past for me in a man’s dark almost wooden mystical mask. The proud Khmers stuck between a rock and a hard place. Wars, food shortages, the torture of no freedom. Resignation in this man’s beautiful face.

Face of Cambodia
Photo was taken with my 50 year old Nikkormat camera and a 50mm lens on black and white film K-Pan 400 Harman.

Cambodian man smokes local tobacco wrapped within a leaf for good taste. He was sitting on the floor with his mate in the cool local buddhist pagoda hall drinking tea. They offered me some smoke, which was fine, strong and flavorful.

I was also offered to drink some light china tea and try some small sweet bananas. We just smiled and sat there for a moment. Exchanged eye contact and mutual understanding without a word really spoken. Just being and feeling content.

Still, I am always thinking about a potential image and pointed my camera for some casual portraits….”Remember never, ever walk away from somewhere like this without taking the shot”.

Rin Bory

During my Phnom Penh phototours we often visited this hidden pagoda temple complex named Areyksat temple. This place was particularly nice for its abundant vegetation, and silence away from noisy Phnom Penh city.

Rin Bory, Buddhist Monk and Pagoda master in Phnom Penh

Also the spiritual context and buddhist monks and young novice monks living there would bring a great setting to do pictures. I discovered this location during one of my bicycle rides and in order to bring other photographers during my tours I asked the head monk for permission to enter the temple grounds. The head monk is a very friendly and handsome young man called Rin Bory. We got along real fine and he speaks english. He was and is very determined to rebuild the old temple into a new education and library for the community. Many afternoons in the heat he would greet us with his friendly smile and provide us with some cold water. There are always around 30-50 young buddhist novice monks staying there. Rin Bory also provided me with insight knowledge regarding Buddhism and the Cambodian state of affairs regarding religion. Thank you Rin Bory! I hope we will meet soon again my friend. Saum Arkoun! (thank you in khmer language)

Cambodian young man with floppy hat in the Phnom Penh slums along the Mekong.

This young and quite handsome man strolls along the huts and lives along the Mekong river slums settlement. From there you will seen the Phnom Penh skyline. The contrast can not be more dramatic to see the makeshift huts from cheap driftwood and metal roofing on the one side and the golden towers and lights shining from the biggest Casino in Cambodia. We only exchanged some smiles and I made this picture in the blink of an eye.

I often went to see the Cham people in Phnom Penh. They are living a semi-nomadic life along the major rivers and lakes of Cambodia. This man is a proud fishing man and just came back from the makeshift mosque they have built. He has a very nice face, as we did not particularly connect but he allowed me to take his picture.

cham muslim man in cambodia mekong
Cham muslim man in Cambodia Mekong River
Old Khmer man in Cambodia
Old authentic Khmer man in Cambodia

This man hasn’t lost his pride and spirit despite his sometimes hard circumstances. Especially during the Khmer Rouge war in mind from 1974-1979. Those years of horror and war played a big part in Cambodian history until today.

There was immediately a feeling of respect and fun between us, right away. Unfortunately, I was not able to have a Khmer conversation with him. I wish I could have had. Who is he, and what happened in his life and how are things for him today? He must have seen things in his life so far.

Then again, it’s also fine to keep it to friendly eye contact and use my camera between us, and just enjoy the moment of human interaction. I like the visual story of mutual intrigued fascination, as well as the light in his eyes. His fragile worn and strong body and his sparkling eyes and smile and well-groomed hair.

Monk getting ready to go to university captured in a photo typtrich.

It’s those moments I truly love my work as a (portrait) photographer as it gives me insights into people and their circumstances I otherwise never would have realized.

Join me next time for a photography adventure, when we are able to travel again and we are able meet up for a photo tour in Amsterdam or Cambodia!