Siem Reap’s annual Angkor Photo Festival is bouncing back from last year’s scaling down – induced by budget constraints – with new leadership, a renewed focus on its original core mission of nurturing Asia’s photographic community, and a long overdue “post-colonial response.”
Thirteen members from the festival’s community of workshop tutors and alumni have banded together to help form a new organising committee to steer this year’s edition in December, and the first move the committee made was to appoint Siem Reap art gallery curator, Jessica Lim, as the new festival director.
This follows the stepping down last year of renowned festival co-founder since 2005 and long-time director, Jean-Yves Navel – but he remains involved as a member of the new steering committee which appointed Lim as his successor.
Lim, who started with the festival in 2010 as a volunteer and then worked as coordinator for seven editions tells Good Times2 that Navel’s dedication to the festival and belief in its cause helped it survive.
“It’s incredible to think that he has been with us since the beginning, and to have seen the festival through for 13 years,” she says.
“His easy-going and laid back personality ensured that the festival maintained a down-to-earth vibe which we have become quite well known for.
“As a director, he was also incredibly hands-on. I’m not sure if people know this, but he oversaw the construction and installation of every outdoor exhibition we’ve had since I joined.”
Under the stewardship of Lim and the new committee, this year’s festival – the fourteenth edition – will maintain its core values of being non-commercial, affordable and accessible.
The ‘new’ festival will also renew its commitment building a vibrant Asian photographic community through its focus on professional development, education, and fostering collaboration and solidarity.
“One of our long-term aims is helping encourage the development of uniquely Asian approaches and perspectives to photography,” Lim said in a press statement.
“We want the conversation to be happening here, being led by people from where we are from. There is certainly more than enough talent in Asia for this to happen. Think of it as a post-colonial response that is very long overdue.”
Overdue the changes well may be, but according to Lim, the change is not so dramatic because the festival has been evolving in that direction for some time.
“Actually, the changes are part of our organic evolution and have been discussed and talked about for a few years,” she says.
“We always knew, I believe from around two-three years ago, that we wanted to make space for our alumni and other photography professionals from the region to take a bigger stake in organising and running the festival.
“It was crucial for us to be self-sustainable in the long-run and also to continue being relevant and adaptable in an industry that is changing every day.”
She says innovation was also necessary because both the environment and the professional community have changed considerably since the festival beginnings in 2005.
“Back then, the emphasis was on empowering Asian photographers to report and document the happenings and issues that affected them and their communities, and the programming reflected that emphasis,” she says.
“Today, we know that the community of media professionals is increasing rapidly and many more senior professionals have emerged over the years. To that end, I want to push for the continued development of Asian perspectives to the medium of photography.”
In 2017 the festival invited Wawi Navarroza from the Philippines and Anshika Varma from India to curate two showcase evenings.
“It was spectacular – the work they selected, the editing, their individual areas of focus and selected themes – it was fresh, exciting, and gave all of us a lot of food for thought,” says Lim.