Twenties tones sweeten the humid air surrounding the Two Moons Hotel. Amok and Anchor set the pace for a relaxing stay in this sleepy town at the base of Bokor National Park, The Hill as it’s locally known. Retired teachers, wayward Dutchmen, and renegade backpackers gel together with a glue long forgotten in the bustling cities of The West.
The fresher mornings bring with them a cacophony of tired engine splutters as eager adventurers mount their cheap steeds and head off into early morning mists.
It’s only just light but the beer still flows in the local bar, music spilling out across the neighborhood un-apologetically. Ex-rockers, aging hippies, millionaires and wannabe gangsters hug the bar to refill their glasses and tell tall stories to friends old and new alike. As stories go, you can’t get much taller; Vintage guitars are tonight’s topic as a once superstar drummer-turned-guitar-mechanic recounts his hedonistic history of American stardom to eager ears and full glasses. Retiring to my eight dollar room at the Two Moons Lodge next door, I can still hear the gentle laughter and gasps, the clinking of glass on wood, and catch a sweet smell of sticky bud carrying gently on the evening air.
A small table-fan bolted to the wall provides mild relief from the heavy summer night-sweats, Geckos chat happily all night long about the latest gossip from Kep, and the local dog pack digs up our freshly preened garden.
This place is blissfully untouched by commercial tourism, but with cruise ships smudging the horizon and Casino skeletons on The Hill, an apocalypse is coming.
The North Gate
D4 HDR / 14 – 28 f2.8 / Siem Reap
A heavy summers rain sets in, all too soon filling the sunken stone passages to bursting. Water spills from the foreboding entrance of this stone-hewn labyrinth, oppressive dark clouds dissuading the dying light from illuminating what lurks within. Dancing shadows draw a maze of black twisting tunnels blocked and barricaded by rock-fall and mutant trees. At the centre of this Tomb-Raider puzzle stands a small altar surrounded by four abandoned passageways, each twisting off to black oblivion. Light particles break through a rupture in the stone ceiling, a single beam of amber illuminating the ancient stone shrine.
A child’s laugh echos momentarily somewhere within the underground maze, shrill sound waves bouncing off cold wet walls, beckoning me deeper. I pick a tunnel and venture down the causeway, knee deep in water following eerie echos from behind the gloom. Tripping hard on an uneven submerged stone I stumble through a dense curtain of wet vines and tree roots, falling through a small opening in the thick stone wall out to another world, the light of a mid-afternoon monsoon flooding my senses. The jungle here lays heavily over hidden red and green stone, a place of worship once devoted to monks and their daily routine, the entire area now laying derelict and eroded by zealous Fords and would-be Angelinas. Climbing large sodden stone steps, I make my way up to the tree line in an attempt to get a feel for the direction back out to civilization. I’m mildly lost, and it’s started to rain again.
The Shore Line
D4 / 70- 200 f2.8 / Kep
Still waters quietly lap at the wooden bow of a small family fishing vessel, garish turquoise mirrored in a dull grey soup. Ancient nets are upholstered on board the cramped platform whilst a young boy stands thigh-deep in a morning ocean, guarding his family’s only means to a living.
D4 / 70- 200 f2.8 / Siem Reap
Clouds of swirling droplets tail two creaking bicycles as they forge a path through the ferocious summer deluge. Laden with firewood, the cyclists take turns to lead the pelaton, shielding one-another from oncoming tidal forces ricocheting off stampeding trucks.
D4 / 70- 200 f2.8 / Kampot
Nothing remains here except the stark battered concrete shells of mansions and churches eroded by time. Surrounded by dense rain cloud, isolated from humanity and hundreds of miles from the nearest convenience store, these vestiges stand proud over-watching Bokor national park and its isolated inhabitants.
A simple concrete road network navigates adventurers from shell to shell, passing vast swatches of rain forest now cut back for the future development of three new mega-hotels, a reservoir turned boating lake, and even an Italian-style complex offering upmarket apartments to the wealthy. Kilometer after kilometer I pass nothing but devastation and destruction on an epic scale, photographically priceless but leaving me sick to the stomach.
After an afternoon of patchy weather and wet cameras, an empty gas tank leaves me free-wheeling back down the treacherous 30km mountain pass, ‘taking the line’ all the way with little regard for the oncoming traffic. To brake now is to walk home.
Read More about Cambodia…
Because it makes me a stronger photographer. I found that after 15 years shooting digital my field-work attitude had shifted for the worse; I became accustomed to the high FPS my Nikons could turn over, became lazy when bracketing for HDR, began to abuse high ISO and just accepted the grain in all weather. I’d leave my tripod at home and just make do with image stabilistion. Above all, I’d become lazy, relying on technology to finish a process I’d start in my mind. I didn't start like that, it just slowly happened, and I'd soon lost track of why I picked up a camera to begin with.
So I changed.
Forcing ourselves to select a small number of images amoungst a infinite number of possibilities enables us to think deeper about our photography, it gives us motivation and focus during times of lack-lustre malaise, and it aligns our thoughts, encouraging thematic expression in collections.
Give it a try.
Barnaby Jaco Skinner
Photographer & Artist