Portuguese photographer Miguel Jeronimo’s upcoming exhibition, Looking Back, Going Forward: 30/30/30 Stories of Change, goes beyond showcasing photographs. It’s a profound exploration spanning three decades of transformative initiatives in Cambodia, commemorating the 30th anniversary of Heinrich Boell Stiftung (HBS) in Cambodia.

The exhibition, aligned with the release of Profiles of Courage, features 30 narratives from civil society organisations and grassroots projects. The photographer aims to highlight stories of change in the country, covering topics like social inclusion, gender, environment and rights. 

“This series aims to show stories of change in the country, touching on topics like social inclusion, gender, environment, and rights,” Phnom Penh-based Jeronimo explains. 

“We were inspired by many people, including 30 different projects and CSOs, and their work to advance Cambodia,” he tells The Post. 

“Heinrich Boell Stiftung, a green foundation, has been established in the country for 30 years, supporting local organisations working on topics like gender and ecology,” he shares.

Jeronimo clarifies that the exhibition focuses on diverse partners with whom HBS has collaborated in recent years. This encompasses not only NGOs but also numerous small initiatives led by young citizens. These initiatives contribute essential services and establish platforms for youth engagement in social issues. 

He underscores that their involvement spans from organising art exhibitions and events to raise awareness about significant topics to forming small groups that initiate campaigns, use social media positively and offer crucial support to communities facing challenges, such as ethnic minority groups at risk of losing their land or cultures.

“One challenge was the selection process. We interviewed so many people and took countless photos. Ultimately, the exhibition will feature over 100 photos, accompanied by texts that give voice to the subjects,” he reflects.

His photographic approach seeks to encapsulate diverse narratives and promote the efforts of all collaborating organisations and projects.

Visionary storytelling

“I hope to have captured the issues through their eyes,” he says. 

Ananth Baliga’s storytelling complements his photographs, weaving a tapestry of stories that portray Cambodia’s forward movement, challenges and progress.

Jeronimo acknowledges Baliga as a seasoned journalist who has significantly aided in editing notes from field trips and interviews. Together, they weave a tapestry of stories representing Cambodia’s ongoing development, capturing the challenges, progress, and the collective efforts of many hands each day.

Extensive hours were dedicated to brainstorming and discussing the integration of narratives with images, forming a cohesive story for the final presentation.

He says the project can bring attention to various subjects seldom in the thoughts of a general audience, particularly those residing in the urban context of Phnom Penh. This audience may not regularly witness the everyday life in rural areas or underprivileged neighbourhoods.

“The production team and I went on numerous field trips. We conducted many interviews, met with communities and social workers,” Jeronimo mentions. 

“Baliga then helped us edit the notes, and Paula Assubuji, the director of HBS, was very engaged with her ideas and comments. It was a true teamwork effort,” he adds.

He expresses hope that the launch of the ‘Profiles of Courage’ publication, coinciding with the exhibition, will encourage readers to invest time in understanding these transformative stories. 

He emphasises that the series does not aim to be an exhaustive survey of the country but presents itself as a tapestry of stories. 

These stories showcase individuals and organisations working daily to advance an idea of Cambodia where families can work fairly and thrive, nature is respected and preserved, and every citizen, regardless of their ethnic group, gender or socioeconomic class, is treated equally and allowed to flourish. 

Looking Back, Going Forward: 30/30/30 Stories of Change will be on display at Meta House from November 20 to December 3.