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Beat Presser: capturing moments in Cambodia

Taing Rinith / Khmer Times Share:
One of Beat Presser’s photographs. Supplied

For Beat Presser, a legendary Swiss cameraman, “there is no such thing as a good or a bad photograph.” With five decades of experience in this field, he is well-known for capturing images of Cambodia.

The renowned photographer started his career as a freelancer and has worked in many different fields over the years, including fashion, advertising, portraits, industrial, painting reproduction, journalism, documentary, feature films and his own photography newspaper – The Village Cry – which he started in the mid-seventies.

Presser first discovered photography in 1968 when he was a schoolboy in Basel, Switzerland. This hobby allowed him to travel around the world taking pictures and gathering inspiration for his photo-books.

“My first book, Coming Attractions, was published in Europe and Switzerland in 1983,” Presser says. “I have also worked on several films, including Mon Ennemi Intime with filmmaker Werner Herzog.”

Presser sees himself as a photographer who wanders the globe capturing people’s portraits and landscapes, but his main
objective is to tell stories through photography with the help of writing. One of his favourite destinations to do so is in Cambodia.

“I first came to Cambodia in 2005 to work on a project, a photo book about Theravada Buddhism. Before that I was working in Thailand, Burma, Sri Lanka and India,” he says.

“I came here to continue research, to travel and take pictures. Then, in 2006 I met Nicholas, the founder of Meta House in Phnom Penh, who came up with the idea of holding an exhibition about Buddhism here. In 2007, we held the exhibition at the National Museum.”

His next project in the Kingdom was about an English painter training underprivileged children
in Sihanoukville, where he photographed the young artists in action.

Presser says that he loves Cambodia and he keeps coming back. He says it was love at first sight.

Beat Presser the Swiss photographer. KT/ Taing Rinith

“I know the country has a very sad story behind it, but now everything seems to be peaceful. When I arrived at the International Airport of Phnom Penh, it was like a completely different world.”

“I don’t know how to describe the feeling. The atmosphere was very relaxing and quiet in 2005. There were no high-rise buildings, and I was in a relaxed state-of-mind despite not knowing anyone or the country.”

Presser travelled everywhere in Cambodia and discovered so many beautiful places. He was captivated by the friendly and helpful locals, and the many young people who were enthusiastic about photography. With the right training, he believed those young photographers could become legendary.

“There is no such thing as a good or bad photo. It depends on how the viewers see the stories behind the pictures. A captivating photo does not have to be beautiful; it could also be shocking, hilarious or sad,” he added.

“To call yourself a photographer you need a lot of techniques and skills. Anyone who owns a camera today can call themselves photographer, therefore a professional has to be outstanding and able to adapt to any situation.”

Presser says the meanings behind photographs are subjective and therefore not necessary.

He explains that pictures can also entertain and shock people, or have historical value.

Photography is still a relatively new kind of media, unlike painting which has existed for millions of years, but there is still a high level of skill involved.

Presser adds that he does not like today’s photograph market because “everybody is waiting for the artists’ death”, and then the prices of your work goes up.“It has happened to many artists. However, not all of them, of course. I am still alive. So if you are into photography go for it as soon as possible. Life may be hard, at least until you become very famous,” he says.


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