While we love to settle into a place for a while, the luxury of staying longer in a destination also has some drawbacks when it comes to me getting work done photographically – and in a timely fashion. There have been many missed monsoonal moments in recent months.
Here in Siem Reap in Cambodia during the wet season, I had a tendency to keep postponing photo shoots at hotels, restaurants and cafés because the weather conspired to ensure that every time I raised a camera, the clouds rolled in and a torrential downpour ensued, forcing me to revert to Plan B. During the wet season you always need to have a Plan B.
My Plan B would be to get out for a late afternoon walk whenever the skies cleared. The beauty of living in a town you have photography commissions for is that the pressure is lessened compared to the assignments where you only have a few days in a destination with which you’re not all that familiar.
When you live in the place you have time to wander more and return to certain spots and take photos that don’t involve light reflectors, directing hotel and restaurant staff to ‘act natural’, or scouring the streets with a fixer in search of that interesting face.
This luxury means I can act like a flâneur and instead of pounding the pavement like a street photographer I can take a much more casual approach, lingering here and there and only lifting the camera when I feel I can make something special, rather than continually ticking off shots on a list.
One beguilingly bright afternoon I found myself a little – albeit deliberately – lost. I knew which general direction the town centre of Siem Reap was, but I was in a rural setting, with rice paddies, ox grazing, and kids taking advantage of the flooded fields to go fishing.
As I was about to snap a photograph of some children throwing a fishing net, a mother and daughter rode past on a pushbike and the little girl turned back towards me and smiled. It would be a shame for any portrait photographer to pass up the opportunity of capturing the pure smile of a Cambodian child.
Despite the hardships, history, poverty, and intergenerational Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) many of these families suffer, Cambodian children have grins that would melt a grinch’s heart.
Mother and daughter were wearing luridly coloured pyjamas, and, along with the smells of shampoo from their freshly washed hair, there was the aroma of rice and prahok emanating from the tiffin box the little girl was carrying. Perhaps they were on their way to an early family dinner.
While it would have made a wonderful photo I had the wrong lens on the camera I was carrying. But I didn’t care. I just enjoyed the moment.
With the weather improving as the wet season came to a close, there would always be another day, another field, and another smiling child enjoying the simple life in rural Cambodia.
That people can still be so happy and positive and generous with their warmth, despite the depressing statistics of rural life in this country, is something. Missing a photograph is nothing.
This photo was taken on another afternoon shooting with a full kit of lenses!
Details: Nikon D600, 80-200mm f2.8D Nikkor @ F5 @ 1/400th second @ ISO800.