How do you photograph an iconic structure, location, land that’s been photographed millions of times? It’s hard really, to believe that voice inside your head (or your mother’s voice) that says you’re a good, ok well decent, photographer, when comparing yourself to years and years of great photographers snapping shots of the same place.
And when does the act of photographing eclipse the simple act of observing and feeling? Is there a fine line between photographing to understand and celebrate beauty, and photographing just for the act?
While visiting the temples of Angkor, near Siem Reap, Cambodia, these were some questions I asked myself. When should I put the camera down in order to experience the place in a quiet, observational manner, and when should I pick my camera up to preserve my memories, and the intricacies of what I was seeing?
As a result, most of my photographs turned out to be of details, doors, and the way the light was cast across the temples. I took some photos for purpose of “preservation”, as a reminder for when I look back. But mostly, I tried to keep the “big picture” as a memory, because the impression the temples give you overall is a very hard thing to photograph.
At 7:30 I already knew the heat of the day would be brutal. However, I was in full adventurer mode and continued with my plan to bike to Angkor Wat. I asked the front desk to use one of their free bicycles, and the receptionist led me out front.
He wheeled out a rusty piece of scrap metal, is the only way I could describe it. There were two wheels, so this could have been a bicycle at some point. The height of the seat came to about my knee and the tires sagged and squeaked.
“Do you have a tire pump?” I asked, pushing a thumb into the tire. The receptionist shook his head.
“You have bikes but no….?” I tried the brakes, and thankfully one of them worked.
“Do you have… another bike?” He nodded, and returned with my bikes ugly stepsister.
“Ok, well… I guess I’ll take it…” I said hesitantly. If I had known that these were my choices of “bikes” then I would have checked out another the evening before. However, my hotel was relatively out of town, and I was already wasting time and the day was only getting hotter. I tottered out of the hotel driveway following the directions of the receptions to Angkor Wat (“Right, and then right”).
His directions were wrong. I think he needed to review “right” and “left.” Or he thought it was really funny to give me a crap bike and then bad directions to boot.
Finally I found some street signs and huffed up to the police checkpoint to enter the Archeological Park. Except there was no ticket booth here like I’d been expecting. As the police officer told me I’d have to ride a long loop back to the correct entrance, I only felt the sweat sliding down my chest. I pouted. Dang, it was so hot out.
I paid the police officers an extorted rate to be driven on a moped to the ticket booth and back. I remounted my bike, and once again hit the sweaty trail.
And… I made it! Eventually. But there it was! Already crowded, hot, and kind of hard to look at to be honest, through the glare of the sun. Everything was so bright it seemed like the temple was a mirage. I couldn’t look directly the outside walls, and I shuttled from doorway to doorway, seeking shade like a sweaty cockroach.
The rest of the day I walked around zombie-like in sweltering heat (40 degrees, or 106 fahrenheit), guzzling liters of water and grasping at coconuts handed to me by vendors. I wandered the area around Angkor Wat and Angkor Thom for the whole day, concluding with a sunset on Phnom Bakheng. Actually, I intended to watch the sunset, but I after waiting and hour I felt I had watched it set enough, and left the crowded pyramid-top to start my long bike journey home.
The following are some impressions of Angkor Wat and the many splendors around the complex of Angkor Thom. Notice the lack of sweeping landscape photographs. They are not my forte, and any google search will give me far more satisfying results.
Alright, I know I have an obsession with these pillars, but they are just so photogenic.
Cute little pyramid sitting on his own…
Yes, another doorway.
You get the picture.
A hot day.
Bas relief basking in the sun.
And a very crowded sunset viewing. Turns out, it was good I left early because a big bank of storm clouds rolled in right before sunset, obscuring the view.