In the early morning, before the sun rose, I checked my email while still in bed for the possibility of any upcoming assignments or licensing of images I made from the previous week. I was still feeling a little down about not being able to sell images about the Cambodia stampede, that killed nearly 450 people, and felt like the world had forgotten about this relatively young country. With one eye open, trying to dim the light of my laptop, I see an email for a travel assignment from the New York Times. Yay. After emailing with the photo editor, at the time, about the logistics of the assignment, grabbing breakfast and packing, I was on a six hour bus ride to southwestern Cambodia, to the Koh Kong region, by noon. To note: I am so thankful of Laura O'Neill for assigning me these travel pieces throughout the past year.
The bus dropped me off in the middle of nowhere, but the locals knew that was a stop to the eco-village of Chi Pat. I met my driver and off we went, an hour long ride through the countryside. The scenery was fantastic, even from the bumpy ride on the back of a 1960-something motorbike. The light warm and glowy as the sun began to fall. At the end of the road, or dirt path really, the old driver, who didn't speak english, motioned to me that I was to get on a raft-like water taxi that will take me over to the village. The last time i was on a sort of raft was crossing the Situate River from Guatemala to Mexico with migrants, only this one had better flotation. Whew.
I spent the next couple days hustling and photographing a list of places on my assignment. Most readers don't know the back story to the pictures of an assignment, or how photographers get there. Most don't know that we have very little time to capture the essence of a writer's story, and that can be quite challenging if those storytelling elements are not there when I am. The best part about traveling is the leisure of spontaneity, but when on assignment, esp for the nyt, there is very little time for that. The decisions I make when choosing the places to photograph on the list can make or break the assignment. I try to shoot everything but then it gives me less time to wait for the moments. Things have to happen with immediate serendipity, so I never pre-visualize my images. I have to remain flexible and mindful, which seems relevant, especially in a Buddhist country, but a common practice I bring with me wherever I go.
Read Naomi Lindt's insightful story on Koh Kong because she brings to light some of the fragile elements of the region, including animal poaching and land development that threatens the ecosystem and the loss of 11,000 acres of forest. As foreigners and travelers, we shouldn't act immune to such realities just because we're on vacation.
Jessie DeWitt did a great edit for the NYT slideshow and below are my outtakes: