Three days in a small school in a rural commune outside Phnom Penh to shoot portraits of students in primary school, that was the brief this April. Together with Norway House and CRF, a local NGO, I had set out to create a series of photos to be exhibited and sold to support the school and its students. The idea was to bring quality gear and create portraits that captured some of their character and would print well.
The school is located an hour or so outside the capital of Phnom Penh. The country itself is among the poorest in South East Asia with few natural resources and a terrible recent history that is difficult to fathom. There are signs of improvement in the city, but once you leave it for the countryside it is clear there is a huge need for development. At this time of the year the rainy season should have provided fields and people with much needed water, this April they were still waiting for it. Temperatures are at forty degrees and everything is dry and dusty.
Planning the shoot took a few months and required first of all a permit to visit and photograph the students. Childs Rights Foundation managed the process before I could have my first meeting with the commune chief and the head of school. We scheduled to shoot 50 students over two days with a third day set aside for environmental shots.
There was a single power-outlet in the school – it was in use by two tired fans in the ceiling and the school water-pump. Adding a strobe and a laptop worked fine except the fan stopping every time the strobe fired. A whack with a shoe started it again.
The shoot went extremely smooth. The equipment performed without a flaw, and the kids were great. They piled into the room wanting to see what this was all about and stepped happily (mostly) forward when beckoned. Bo, the Cambodian representative from Child Rights Foundation, ask each student a couple of questions – like what do you want to be when you grow up – and stepped in when gestures weren’t enough to communicate. In the end we shot 125 portraits.
On the gear; I had used a Hasselblad H5D-50 on a trip in Sri Lanka previously and liked the look and files a lot. Hasselblad Japan helped me out with a H5D-50C loaner for the shoot, great service as always. For portraits I used a HC100/2.2 and for environment a HCD24/4.8. The image quality was better than I expected with plenty of details in the shadows and more workable files than the H5D-50 CCD version. Lighting was handled by a Broncolor Siros single strobe with an Octabox and a reflector for fill. The Hasselblad and Broncolor combo was solid and just worked. The color and output stability from the Broncolor over the two days was perfect.
Next up is curating the series, print portraits for the kids and plan the exhibition. You can see the images as they are ready here.