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So you think you can take pictures? I just invented the greatest ever lesson for photographers, and it’s called Siem Reap. I make you this proposal: if you can meet the challenge I am about to hit you with, your photographic skills will jump a mighty notch on the scale of amateur to the guy who sneers at National Geographic as art for the masses. Your mission is simple, get yourself to Cambodia, and take some photos without having a single tourist in them. It’s not as easy as you think, even at low season this town is crawling with the scum of the earth. German tourists cutting into lines, check. Arrogant hippies shell shocked at the fact they are not the only ones able to appreciate the massive achievements of Cambodian culture, check. The Japanese people are deeply spiritual are they? Explain that to the young Jgirl who thinks it hilarious that she’s holding up two fingers to the Buddha’s nose so that the photo looks like she’s digging for nasal gold. At this time and place, it’s truly amazing to think that anyone is dumb enough to think that they can find somewhere on earth to “find themselves” in the midst of pure native culture. You drivelling idiots. You think that you’re some sort of Zen Buddhist traveller on a voyage to spirituality? What you are, is a walking wallet. You really think they want to be your friend and exchange cultural and spiritual values? They want your money. Lets not beat about the bush, the Cambodians are a desperately poor people. Scams include young girls around the age of 8 asking you for money so they can eat, whilst holding a baby. Poor people asking you to “donate to Buddha” whilst practically forcing incense into your hand. That hand-inked environmentally friendly clothing you’re wearing that cost an obscene amount of money because of indigenous people X’s cause that it supported? Worth it’s weight in gold to the average Khmer. Guilt you into donating a few bucks so “victims of landmines” can have a square meal? It’s there too. Yes, you won the lottery by being born someone else, but that doesn’t make you responsible. You can be a perfectly acceptable tourist staying in a hotel, not being made a chump, and paying the local prices as opposed to the “you are white therefore you must pay 10 times the going rate.”
Having finished that particular rant, if you’ve got the chops and and the patience, you can get some amazing photos. As always, I advise you to go where others don’t. If someone else shows up with the same camera and lens, you hump a tripod. If someone is standing, you are lying down or baking in the hot sun. If someone shows up at 7, you are in position at 4, waiting for the 5 precious minutes of dawn light. You’re not going to get what you want by following the crowd. There are some amazing spots among the temples in Siem Reap that are completely ignored by the tours, seek them out. If the crowd circulates clockwise, go the other way. If they look up, you look down. If someone complains the light isn’t good, make them wrong and get the shot. Forget your street photography fantasies of documenting poverty, as a tourist you’re nowhere near the reality. If you get a bang on shot of three Buddhas in a row with some excellent blue sky and cloud coverage, be content. If you really feel deeply about Cambodia and other places like it, have the decency to actually live there, learn the language, and eat the food. Otherwise, leave the sermons to the NGOs and stump up the cash to your environmentally friendly youth hostel. Leave your fellow tourists alone, they aren’t there to ruin your spiritual journey, they’re there to get a $5 massage that would cost them $80 back home. They aren’t rich where you’re from, either. I’m looking forward to sharing some really cool photos with you, but in the meantime, I’m going to sack out in my very middle class hotel with a bellyful of booze having written all this on the WiFi that made it all possible. Until then, you are only a D800 and 14-24mm f/4 away from one-upping my shots.