The final post in for this term’s project is entitled Cruel and Tender and was to be a location shoot. The project brief was:

You should research other photographers’ work and plan own shooting. You should mind map the initial approach to the topic. You should show through the evaluation and analysis of the research how this has helped and influenced your own ideas. The interpretation of the theme should reflect your individual way of working. 

My initial thoughts were centred around a care setting, demonstrating the cruelty of illness and the tenderness of care. However, that idea was quickly supplanted when I focused on my holiday destination in January – I was heading off to Cambodia. For those of us of certain age, we are old enough to remember the atrocities perpetrated by the Khmer Rouge. I always intended to pay my respects to the innocents who were killed by that regime, by visiting a killing field memorial. I then had the idea that this might be a good subject for the project. As I was only in Cambodia for 4 days, visiting the Temples of Angkor Was, time was not on my side. I undertook some research on the interweb and discovered that there was a killing field memorial in Siem Reap called Wat Thmei.

Although I had the grains of the project concept, this did not crystallise until I actually arrived there. The memorial is based within a Buddhist temple (hence ‘Wat’ in the name). What immediately struck me when I arrived, was the small pagoda in the centre, which was filled with human bones, mainly skulls and limb bones. On either side, there were statues of Buddha. It struck me that at once we have a representation of cruelty and tenderness. The semiotics of the scene came into play. I settled on the idea that I would seek to represent the cruelty of the Khmer Rouge regime through pictures of human remains and represent tenderness through different representations of Buddha. Of course, Buddhism as a religion is practiced, in many states in S.E. Asia and as I had already been to Thailand and was returning there, I had the option of taking more pictures representing Buddhism – monks, flowers and statues. So the selection below represents pictures taken both in Cambodia and Thailand.

Again a selection of pictures, were put to the public vote and Zig then went through my blog and extracted some additional pictures for the class to vote on. These are the rejects:

And these made it into the final selection:

Technique:

As this was taken on location I had to deal with issues around harsh/contrasting light, movement, reducing or enhancing reflections and colour. Most pictures were taken with my Canon 6D using either the 50mm or 100mm lens. The one exception is the picture of the lotus bud which was taken with the iPhone 7 Plus.

Health and Safety:

This centred on the fact that everywhere I took these pictures was a public place. I needed to be aware of other people, be they tourists (wanting to take their own pictures) or staff. Some of the temple complexes required me to be careful when navigating them… being as old and popular as they are, level paving stones are a luxury – this is an observation, not a criticism.

Evaluation:

I enjoyed shooting for the project once I had settled on my interpretation. Although I did not draw a mind map, I did go through that process of thinking how it could be achieved, what pictures to take, why I wanted to take them in that way and what I was looking to say to the viewer. The curve ball in all of this was the addition of other holiday pictures which clearly represent the theme but had not been considered by me for inclusion. That makes this project in one way a collaborative effort. Now I have pointed out the obvious representation of cruelty and tenderness, but it also works at a deeper level. In the pictures of the monks, you never see their faces, only their backs, which itself could be a representation of cruelty. The addition of the banyan tree with the petals could be representative of the strength of the people of Cambodia coming through the adversity of mass killings and the rebuilding their country from the memories of their lost ones… lost but never forgotten. Moreover, the exposed roots of the tree are reminiscent of the limb bones in the killing field memorial pagoda….. semiotics at play!

Assignment criteria: 1-4

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