In 2009, I visited Cambodia for the first time to carry out research for my docudrama Fire, Fire, Desire. Between 2010 and 2016 I then spent one month each year filming in Southeast Asia. Saving on luggage, I only ever took one film camera with me. It's impossible to film and take photos at the same time. Either I think cinematographically, always anticipating my next shot and considering the movement, or I think in terms of photographic stills. I have never managed to switch between film and photo camera. It wasn't until 2017 and 2018, when I stopped working in film to set up a short-wave radio station, that I took my photo camera with me.
Cambodia already played an important in my life back in the 1970s, mainly through the newspapers that reported almost daily on the wars in Vietnam and Cambodia. Later, I was captivated by the novels of Graham Greene and Marguerite Duras.
In 2009, on rare occasions, I rediscovered the Indochine so beautifully described in literature. Sometimes, when I returned home late at night during the rainy season in Phnom Penh, I felt like I was transported back to colonial times. I watched an old rickshaw driver trying to dry his saddle with a wet cloth, cursing and swearing in French, or caught sight of the reflection of an old hotel sign on the wet tarmac. The smell of smoke and jasmine sparked my imagination. When the sound of the Cambodian bamboo xylophone echoed across the Mekong, the illusion was perfect.
It was this Cambodia that I wanted to capture with my photo camera in 2019 together with my producer Christopher Jarvis. But with the exception perhaps of the floating villages on Tonle Sap Lake, I no longer managed to achieve this. Too extreme are the changes that are currently taking place in Cambodia. In some regions, Chinese people who have recently moved to the country now make up a third of the population; Chinese construction sites are omnipresent, not just in major cities but also in rural regions. What was once the world's longest bamboo bridge has now been replaced by a concrete Chinese structure and on the legendary Mount Boko, a Chinese casino city is being built. Lake Boeung-Kak, once a Phnom Penh landmark, was drained to make way for a hotel complex: around 10,000 people were evicted from their lakeside homes and driven away. The repercussions of this new colonialism are vast. It is my view and that of most Cambodians that it will neither lift people out of poverty nor contribute in any other way to the positive development of Cambodia.
My photo stories are not objective. I mourn a bygone Cambodia and endeavor to document this with my camera as poetically as possible.