“Amazing Cambodia,” an archive of photos documenting Cambodia’s cultural and architectural history, was launched four years ago. According to its founder, the project’s aim is to give young Cambodians a more positive image of their country’s recent past. It also aims to increase awareness of Khmer culture among foreigners.
Srin Sokmean has turned up more than 10,000 photos in the course of his research. While the “Amazing Cambodia” page is four years old, the young man’s search for photos that preserve the memory of the Kingdom’s cultural life goes back six years.
At the age of 23, Mr. Sokmean started searching for vintage photos at libraries, and asking older artists to contribute images. Some photos he found online.
“There are various categories of photos I post on the ‘Amazing Cambodia’ [Facebook page], including those from old movies, artists from the past, old architecture and more,” he said.
Mr. Sokmean is most interested in photos from the sixty decades during which Cambodia was ruled by King Father Norodom Sihanouk. He added that the photos that attract the most attention are architectural photos and city scenes showing the level of prosperity Cambodia achieved under the late King Father’s rule.
Mr. Sokmean doesn’t post photos from the Khmer Rouge period on his Facebook page.
“I want people, especially young people, to see the good side of Cambodia’s past so they can understand that Cambodia was once a prosperous nation like other countries,” he said.
“Amazing Cambodia” has attracted more than 40,000 fans since it was established. The archive, all of whose images are accompanied by clear captions and copyright information, has become a place to learn about Cambodia’s past.
Mr. Sokmean said the project is non-profit and does not generate income for him. The motivation for keeping “Amazing Cambodia” going, he said, comes solely from his love of culture. He was born into a business-owning family, but Mr. Sokmean is an only child with a passion for the arts.
“I’ve been in love with the arts since I was young. I think maybe I just picked it up from my surrounding environment,” he said, adding that he started learning to sing when he was just in grade 2.
In 2013, Mr. Sokmean organized the “Amazing Cambodia Exhibition” of photographs at Meta House. Driven by his passion to preserve Cambodia’s memories, the well-organized show was put together entirely by Mr. Sokmean, with Meta House providing the venue.
More than 200 photos were displayed at the weeklong exhibition. More than one hundred visitors attended on the first day, and he received strong encouragement to keep searching for more photos of Cambodia’s past.
Mr. Sokmean admits there have been times when he has grown tired of waiting for promised help from supporters to materialize–and times when he has had no support at all. Many people say they want to help in the search for old photos, but don’t follow through.
“It’s what I love doing, so it never occurs to me to stop. I’ve always loved the arts. I was also different from others; I liked to listen to older songs,” he said.
Mr. Sokmean plans to publish a book compiling many of the “Amazing Cambodia” photos. He said the picture book would have up to 40 pages with the same clear captions and sourcing.
“The book is intended as a reference and as a documentary source for research students,” he said.
Mr. Sokmean said he still needs to consult with senior artists, filmmakers, academics and others to collect information for the book. He cannot afford to publish the book alone, however, and is searching for donors to help him make it happen.