Cambodia Journals | Mondulkiri, 03 September 2019
We are coming to the end of the time we have spent discovering and experiencing Cambodia. We stubbornly chose to do it off the tourist path. We left behind many (certainly all) of this country’s attractions that consume ink in the pages of travel guides: Angkor Wat, Siem Reap, the Tonle Sap, Banteay Srei, and so on.
We also know we would have no dialogue with those who have already been there with a GrandiViaggi contract jealously guarded in their diary.
And we also know very well that ours is not a merit.
It is simply our work, what we felt and chose to do and that even this stay in Cambodia is the result of a choice: that of going around the world and recounting it by experiencing it first hand, without the filters and advice of a tourist organisation, with the knowledge that we could also have made a trip in vain or not understand anything of what we would have seen and experienced. A journey, this and all others, is based on meeting people before encountering the place. By seeking dialogue long before asking questions.
Meetings: the privilege of the (photo)reporter
It is the job of the (photo)reporter, my job and that of others, and it is the most beautiful job in the world because it forces you to look and allows you not to judge.
It is a profession comprised of encounters, relationships with people and environments, facts and events, the world you know and the world you transform.
But it is not only that, but it is also much more: it is having found your position in the world and, out of a kind of gratitude, using your photography and the stories you live and collect to show that, despite a thousand miseries, the world – made up of individuals and their environments – is a place yet to be discovered, capable of wonder.
A place of changes and exchanges, of dialogues not necessarily spoken in the same idiom.
You spend almost five hours in a minibus with more than 20 people, including peasants, women wearing veils, boys in dresses and trainers, and workers with hoes at their backs. No one speaks your language, but everyone addresses you as their equal. Someone offers you water, someone a rice distillate of criminal gradation, another some dried larvae bought along the road to stop the holes in your stomach.
And in those moments, despite the tiredness, the heat, the stench, the desire to arrive, you realise that these feelings of yours are their feelings because – even if they are used to it (perhaps) – they too are sweating, they too are tired, they too want to arrive, and you too stink. And they smell it.
But despite all that, that place, in that instant, is where you want to be. And you can think of nothing else but being there because that is where you have chosen to be.
Photography is not a right, but a gift
Sometimes I wonder how I would behave if I were the subject of a street photographer’s shot. If, in our bright, orderly and organised cities, a guy came along, distracting me from my thoughts and the polite hurry we always tend to drag along even if we have nothing to do, and made me waste that precious time we think we never have, to ask for a portrait. “Sometimes I wonder how I would behave“, and I find that a great question.
And I don’t have a perfect answer.
With a camera in hand, WE often feel that photography is a duty or a right. Meanwhile, photography is simply a gift. A gift we receive.
It is the granting of a fragment of life, and WE, as photojournalists, have a duty to make that instant worthy of the homage we are receiving. Recognise, with humility, the privilege of the encounter.
A special encounter
Speaking of chance and fortuitous encounters, I had the privilege of meeting and getting to know a ‘special’ person with contagious serenity and genuine helpfulness in Phnom Penh: Francesco.
We emailed each other before my departure, although we had never met or known each other in person before: we were a mere profile among many contacts in the social networking cauldron.
He deserves special thanks, for all that he is, without any fear of showing it.