In May, I highlighted the work of outstanding Cambodian photographer Mak Remissa (right), so I was pleased to see the following interview with Mak appear in the latest edition of the magazine TouchStone, the quarterly publication of my friends at Heritage Watch. Read my blog post on Mak here.
The importance of photography for Cambodia
Mark Remissa works as a freelance photographer and is one of Cambodia’s leading photographers. Born in 1970, Remissa found his calling after enrolling at the Royal University of Fine Arts to study painting. In 1993, the French association Arts Cambodge offered photography classes to the students and this short training session would change his life. Whilst most people at the time viewed photography as a low-skilled career with little revenue, Remissa was intrigued. Looking for work after graduation he ended up at the then French-language newspaper Le Mekong working as a photojournalist.
Q. What inspired you to study the arts, and more specifically painting?
A. The Khmer Rouge, one of the bloodiest mass murdering regimes in the history of mankind, killed everyone that had higher education. Some survived, like the painter Mr Vann Nath who used his paintings skills to record all the killing and torturing activities of the Khmer Rouge, was not killed. For that reason I realized art is a skill that is useful for everyone and everywhere in the world.
Q. Do you work only in Cambodia or abroad as well? And have you held any exhibition, nationally and internationally?
A. I was given the opportunity in 1997 to study photojournalism in Thailand which allowed me to come back and start as a freelance photographer. As a freelance photographer I had clients from various parts of Cambodia and the world, including UNDP, UNESCO, PLAN, REUTERS, Bates, etc. Since coming back from studying in Thailand I have travelled all over the world to capture pictures for the world to see. I have also done many exhibitions of my photos nationally, and internationally – Canada, USA. In 1997, I won first and third prize at the National Photo-Journalism competition.
Q. What do you think that made you become so successful?
A. Besides the experience and good skills that I have, my success has been made possible by two reasons; one is because I am Cambodian. International firms, as well as NGOs love to hire a Cambodian for jobs in Cambodia, as long as you have the skills they need. They understand that no one understands Cambodia better than the Cambodians themselves. Second reason is because I ask lower prices for my photos than foreigners ask!
Q. So what does it mean to be a Cambodian artist?
A. Cambodians have to wake up and realize that we Cambodians are of no less value than the foreigners. We might not be as good as them at something, but we might be better at something else. For instance, when I offered photo classes no one would come to learn because I am just another Cambodian, which would not have been the case if I was a foreigner. That’s the psychological thought that most Cambodians have. But I am very proud to be a Cambodian artist. I am the pioneer in this profession and I am very proud. I only wish that all other Cambodian artists feel the same as me.
Q. What have you done to help bring this profession to the attention of the young generation?
A. I have given lectures at the Royal University of Phnom Penh and put up many exhibitions to show the values of professional photographers. In the future, I plan to open a photography school, where I hope I will pass on my knowledge and skills to many more people. I am really worried that after my professional life is over, there will be no one to continue.