~ Posted by Simon Willis, March 27th 2013
Late last year, our picture editor Melanie Grant asked the photographer Emma Hardy to go to Cambodia. Nicholas Shakespeare was writing a piece about his return to Cambodia 50 years after his family was forced to flee Phnom Penh by an angry mob. Emma spent three days travelling with Nicholas, photographing the story as she went. We published her pictures in our January/February issue. Last night we saw them on a gallery wall. The Gallery in Redchurch Street, Shoreditch, has an exhibition of the pictures we used in the magazine as well as some that we didn't have room for.
Graham Black, our art director, was looking at a print of a photograph (above) we had used on the opening spread—of a baby sitting in a little round bath in a slum outside Phnom Penh. He had pored over hundreds of Emma's pictures, choosing which ones worked best with Nicholas Shakespeare's words. "It's like seeing a movie for the second time," Graham said, "You notice tiny little details." Just in front of the tin bathtub was a toothbrush, bristles down in mud and rubbish. "I hadn't seen that."
When you look at Emma's prints, you see how telling and coherent those details are. It's about the colour. Behind the baby in the bath is a blue pillar with smears of red paint down one side. The blue is picked up in a paint streak on a wooden bench to the right, in a discarded cigarette lighter, in water bottles and plastic piping strewn across the ground. The red is echoed in battered gas canisters. When you're looking at the picture, you see the baby first. And then the colour leads your eye to the context.
"Cambodia: Losing Ground" is on at The Gallery in Redchurch Street until March 31st. It will then travel to the Avenue Suites hotel in Washington, DC, from April 10th-17th