Photo exhibition celebrating Kingdom’s historical buildings

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
Chapel of the Sisters of Providence Hospice, one of the capital’s few Catholic churches when it was built in 1930s. Photo supplied

If historical buildings pique your interest but you don’t have time to explore the length and breadth of Cambodia, a photo exhibition set to be held in Phnom Penh will offer the chance to see a collection of photos featuring the country’s unearthed architectural gems.

The Underrated Heritage Buildings Exhibition, a collection of 50 photos of 50 lesser-known historical buildings, is being organised by 26-year-old Sokmean Srin over three days at Factory’s Kbach Gallery in August.

Srin, a young amateur researcher, is displaying his solo research conducted over the course of a decade as he travelled to the Kingdom’s hidden architectural masterpieces, from Phnom Penh to obscure buildings in remote provincial areas.

“The main objective of this exhibition is to raise the public’s awareness of the underrated heritage buildings all over Cambodia. Those buildings have their own unique values, but tragically most of them are overshadowed by the famous tourist attractions in the same provinces,” said Srin, who has photographed the buildings before they are potentially demolished in fast evolving Cambodia.

Srin, who has been obsessed with old buildings since childhood, told The Post: “By helping promote the buildings through this exhibition, these architectural treasures will be more greatly valued and well-preserved. Hopefully, more visitors, researchers, architecture students and even filmmakers will go to explore them, and the local communities will directly benefit.”

Srin is a journalist for Cambodian fashion and lifestyle magazine SOVRIN and an English teacher at a private school. In 2012, he also started the Amazing Cambodia Facebook page that aims to document the Kingdom’s cultural heritage.

With a strong personal interest in national culture and architecture, Srin has been self-funding his research, travelling to the provinces at least once or twice a month to explore and photograph historical places.

“I started collecting photos of old buildings when I was in high school. First, I found the photos in books or magazines, and then around 2009-2010 I searched the Internet. In 2013, I started my solo research trips,” he said.

Srin has photographed neglected hidden gems, including Phnom Penh’s Kim Son Theatre on Street 144 that operated from the 1930s until it closed in 1975, while further out of town on National Road 5 he has photographed the colonial-era Pteas Boran Cafe, built in 1931. There is also the Chapel of the Sisters of Providence Hospice, one of the capital’s few Catholic churches when it was built in 1930s, located along Sisowath Quay.

“It is very important to preserve old buildings to let the young generations know their ancestors’ legacies and appreciate these masterpieces. They also help reflect the country’s economy and people’s lifestyles in different periods of history,” said Srin, who in 2013 also held an exhibition at Meta House on Cambodia’s 1960s architectural ‘golden era’.

After ten years’ research, on display are 50 photos of 50 historical buildings in Phnom Penh and Kandal, Kampong Cham, Kampong Chhnang, Kampong Thom, Pursat, Battambang, Siem Reap, Banteay Meanchey, Kratie, Kampot, Tboung Khmum and Prey Veng provinces.

“All of the pictures are my own,” said Srin, who interviewed villagers and monks, as well read the inscribed information at the site and researched online to gather information about each building.

“I think Cambodian people in general give less value to old buildings than Western people do. Foreigners, especially researchers and culture-lovers, seem to understand deeply and are likely to explore hidden architectural places more. As locals don’t care much about old buildings, they usually destroy or renovate buildings poorly.”

The exhibition will also celebrate Khmer culture, with folk dances, poems and film screenings to accompany the photography.

“Every guest will receive a souvenir postcard for free. We need to raise funds from the ticket sales to be able to publish our upcoming books called Phnom Penh: 50-years Then & Now and Phnom Penh’s Former Cinema Buildings,” he said.

The Underrated Heritage Buildings Exhibition will be held at Factory’s Kbach Gallery in Phnom Penh from August 10 to 12. Tickets cost $5. For more information, the event organiser can be contacted by telephone (069 664 869).