After riding across the villages of Cambodia developing our activities, I went south, to Kampot.
Kampot is a lovely town, with many French colonial houses and it is not as full of tourists as other zones of the country. It is a quiet town, people come here for adventure tourism, to practise sports, to swim and fish in the river…; besides it is very near the sea and from another town called Kep. Kep is well known for the crabs, there are lots of crab sellers who catch them using traditional traps, it is beautiful.
In Kampot, we have carried out our activities with Epic Arts, which enhances the development of disabled people, among whom there are also deaf people. I got there some days in advance to get the workshops ready with time, to adapt myself to the context and the centre, so the work would be more fluent.
Epic Arts’ goal is to provide these disabled people with artistic training, especially dancing. They are invited many times to perform their shows in other parts of Cambodia, and even in some foreign countries. I went to see the centre, which is divided into different buildings. In one there are people rehearsing choreographies, in another one there are people doing plastic art, especially with Dawn syndrome, then, there is also another building with offices, etc. I went to know it to prepare there the photography workshops together with the staff. The person I prepared them with was Nicole, an American girl who helped me setting the exhibit up and to get everything ready to start.
Apart from the training centre, Epic Arts has a separate building, a cafe-restaurant where they serve coffee and exquisite cakes. This is the way they improve the social integration, because the workers are disabled people. It is a wonderful project we have loved to know.
I started the activities with our nine students group, two were deaf and the others had other challenges. A Sign Language interpreter came with me and, besides this, all the students had basic knowledge of this language. Every day we had six hours of workshop divided between the morning and the afternoon, what allowed us to work in a quiet mode, no hurry.
First thing we did, as usual, was to introduce the project ARTWATERENESS, I told them about the work that we were doing and they asked me questions about it. Later, we did the guided tour through the exhibition. We were discovering the pictures and commenting on them, the participation was very active, especially when we got to the “Kep crab market” photo, in which they shared a lot of info about fishing and about the area. Then we went to the classroom with the group and we introduced the topic of water in the world and through history. How they thought the water was in the past, what it was going to happen in the future, if the amount of water changes, if it will finish… This brought a very enriching debate in which we could share lots of ideas.
After that we went straight to the usage of the camera. Most of them had experience with it because almost all of them had smartphones, so getting them in the basis of the usage was prety easy. Later we learnt the main composition rules, showing images and classifying them depending on if they were right or wrong in terms of composition and finding out why. This activity was very funny and many comments and ideas came up until we categorised all the images.
The following day we began with a little bit of history of photography and we continued with the first practising activity, which consists on taking photos from water in our daily life. The group spread over the centre looking for water images to capture and, when they came back, we reviewed the pictures and analysed the composition problems they had. Then, they repeated the task. The second time they came there was a sensible improvement in the photographs. We spent that afternoon screening the images with the projector so we could check them out, correcting and understanding among all why ones were more balanced than others; we also could find some composition problems or how the scenario is important and we have to consider not only the object we are focussing in, but also the background.
The next activity was to work with reflections. This is a much harder issue, but we had started dealing with the backgrounds the previous day, which helped us a lot. Working inside the centre searching for reflections was complicated, as there are more opportunities in the street, so we created our own puddles to try to get some reflections on them. Even doing this, the task was difficult and not everybody reached their goals, although some participants did very interesting pictures. When we screened the photos to review our work in the afternoon, we could see how everyone had improved their composition skills.
Next day we worked on how the point of view can change depending on the composition of the image. We saw in a magazine how, depending on we are pointing at, or how open or close the picture is, the approach and the perception are different, and how one can cheat or manipulate it by choosing the focus. For example, we could watch a bottle full of clean water, or a bathroom, giving the sensation that transmit a sensation of cleanliness and, when opening the framing, finding out that the environment is full of rubbish, what provokes varied feelings in us. They started creating their own images and the world of contrasts was very funny for them. We kept on working on the shadows and, for this, we left the centre. We went on our trip in the sunset, so it was easier to get better shadows. We looked for the way to relate water and shade; they used many things, such us glasses. It was hard to find images, but they finally got some pictures which met the requirements of the activity.
The following day we left an open topic. The students went for a walk alongside Kampot, searching water images by the river, in the boats… Walking or in bicycle with a device for the wheelchair, the couples went to look for photographs while the interpreter and I stayed in a meeting point just in case they had doubts and needed our help. Some hours later we met to solve some doubts and to follow up the work. Once they were solved, they kept on seeking images until lunch time, when we met at the centre.
The activity was tiring for them, but we kept on working in the afternoon; some of them wanted to go out again and others wanted to stay; we decided to stay in the centre, screen the pictures and comment our work. We realized that now, that we had improved our composition when shooting objects (usually in close frames), we had more difficulties to get balanced images with general framing.
Last day we did photo exercises to work on body and water. We experienced how the water was when slipping on different parts of our body, when splashing us, when hitting us, etc. Some participants went to the river, others walked through Kampot and others stayed in the centre and its surroundings. They did a very good use of time and they took a lot of pictures, they did a great job.
During the week, we had been hanging each day’s photos from the walls and the classroom was full of them.
That afternoon we did a recap of the artworks and we showed them in an event for all the people from the centre, teachers and students. We watched together the photographs and the people loved them; there was a big applause at the end, what made us very happy. The students got really excited and they gave me drawings and letters to thanking our time together.
That day we also saw the work that another teacher had developed with a group of students with Dawn syndrome, consisting on photo creations with water balloons filled in with paint, which exploded against the floor and walls. We all loved it and the audience also gave them a huge applause.
After the closing event, many students came by to express their interest in keeping on deepening in the photography world. Of course, we encouraged them to follow this initiative a lot.
Thanks Epic Arts!
First, I’d like to thank for making this collaboration possible; it was a week of wonderful workshops. Thank you very much to the responsibles Laura and Tony. They have been lovely and they have supported us a lot making this idea become true. Also thanks to Nicole, who has known how to give us pieces of advice and to help us, solving any issues that showed up. Thanks also to the interpreters Sovannarith Pot and Chakriya Meas; both of them have been a great support in the communication inside the workshops.
Special thanks too to the team in charge of Epic Arts restaurant, each one and all of them have taken really good care of me.
Thank you very much to everybody!