In 2004, Philippe Bataillard, a Cambodia-based French photographer, went to Phnom Srok district, in the north-western province of Banteay Meanchey, to work on a unique project. He was assigned by Projet d’Appui au Secteur de la Soie (PASS) to photograph the whole process of traditional silk production, for the first time with a digital camera.
Phnom Srok district is the only region in Cambodia in which the people, mostly women, still possess the country’s traditional sericulture (silk farming) skills. In a small village, as Bataillard, an artist who finds aesthetic value in simple Cambodian lives, was documenting the villagers’ tasks, from silkworm farming to weaving the beautiful sarsenet, he fell in love with the process.
“They used traditional tools, the same items we found sketched in the books about the trade written by French scholars almost 100 years ago,” Bataillard says. “Their final product, the hand-made ‘golden silk’, stands out for its strength and flexibility, in addition to their beauty.”
Bataillard was also impressed by the way the villagers worked together in the process and shared the income or profit.
“In one family, they were raising the silkworm and their neighbours were boiling the cocoon,” Bataillard explains. “In another house, the ladies were looming the silk thread.”
“This is what I call ‘a real Silk Road.”
At that time, however, very few tourists visited Phnom Srok and were given the opportunity to admire “the silk tradition”. Bataillard, the photographer, really longed to show this to the world.
Fifteen years after he completed the projects, Bataillard has all the pictures on display at his Imag’in Café-Photo-Galerie in Phnom Penh.
The opening of the exhibition, dubbed Gold and Silk, was held on Thursday last week and attended by many photography enthusiasts.
The photograph collection, according to the photographer, represents the charm of a natural material and the unique craftsmanship that turns it into a precious item; a fabric which is even found in the “wardrobe of kings”.
‘Silk and Gold’ is being held at Imag’in Café-Photo-Galerie, located at #2A, on Street 93, until August 22, 2019.