What wants to be seen part 2

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Bosthlan Village, back once again

We take a leisurely drive from Kompong Cham to Bosthlan Village. The light is a shade better, as it’s slightly cloudy and the sun hasn’t yet reached its highest point. There are a few spots where we pull over to take pictures of the countryside, with its vast rubber tree plantations. I’m looking for banana trees, ones that stand close together. Vann doesn’t really understand what I’m doing.

As we drive past a farm, where a large number of people are busy sorting cassava and loading it onto trucks, we stop. Vann enquires whether it’s okay for me to take pictures, which it is. The initial photographs that follow are of the kind where the men have macho smiles and the women shyly look away. The work must go on, which allows me to take the pictures I’m looking for. Beautiful images, I’m pleased with them. 

In the yard in Bosthlan Village, I am greeted warmly. They seem genuinely happy to see me. I’ve brought some photographs of my previous visit with me, framed and all. This is very much appreciated, and it is Khun Ann’s portrait in particular that is given a prominent place in the room. 

Then it’s time to get to work with Vann. I have tried to explain my wishes to him: To begin with, him in a bomb crater. He leads the way towards the biggest one on their land. Banana trees are growing in and around it.

Scorched earth

Both of us are slightly out of our comfort zone. Vann is hauling my bag and my tripod, occasionally looking at me questioningly,

“Here?” or perhaps…

And then we arrive at the enormous crater at the far end of the garden. “This one?” And then it’s up to me to take the lead. I set up the tripod and check the light, shutter speed and aperture.

Vann, could you go and stand among the banana trees? I check to see whether this looks okay. And then, indeed, the question: “Vann, could you stand in the crater?”

The more time we spend working together like this, the more of a connection we develop. We are in sync, and a certain flow emerges.

Shall I sit or stand? Like this, or…?

Try holding on to my light.

Take a step to the side please, turn towards the light, look up.

We are totally immersed in this process.Next, another difficult question. I want to make Ghost pictures of him, one in which he’s looking through his hands. Shot with ND filter and zoom lens, from a slight distance to make the background nice and blurry. I go over the settings one more time.

How long should the lens be open for?

After a few practice shots, we get to work. Four seconds, hands down, and then it clicks after another four. I take a series of pictures like this, portraits and standing images. I show them to Vann, and he takes a step back:

“Spooky”. We laugh it off.

Following the bomb crater and the spooky images, I take my camera off the tripod, unscrew the filter and gather up my things. Wordless, we walk across the yard. The yard that is, as I have only ever known it, empty. Vann lingers over some burnt bamboo stakes, seeming hesitant. 

“This is what it looked like here, after those bombs!”

I take a few pictures of him as he stands there, behind the charred stakes.

We continue walking and he points at the scorched earth, then sits down on a tree stump and gestures around him. Look, this is where the entrance to the shelter was. And look, there’s another crater, and another. And over there, that’s where Loon’s house once stood.

I sit crouched down, moved by it all. Vann has suddenly become open, helpful and communicative. I take more shots, of him and of the scorched earth. Silently, each of us retired into ourselves, we make our way back to Oun’s house.

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