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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Joel Santos

Apr17

Exploring the magic and light in Cambodia

By Joel Santos, Friday April 17, 2015
Angkor Wat temple reflected in a pond at sunsrise, Cambodia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens; the exposure was 3.2 seconds at f/16, ISO 100.

Angkor Wat temple reflected in a pond at sunsrise, Cambodia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens; the exposure was 3.2 seconds at f/16, ISO 100. © Joel Santos - www.joelsantos.net

There are some countries that play a big role in our imaginations; fuelled by a fantastic mental image based on photographs that we saw when we were kids, in stories told by our parents and grandparents, in adventure films and even in comic books.

Cambodia fits into this small group of special countries perfectly, with images of temples swallowed by forests full of mystical power, lost in time and space, very much a reality. One of the real icons of this real-life fable is the temple of Angkor Wat which was built in the Angkor area, where the ancient capital of the Khmer empire stood and experienced a time of splendour between the 9th and 15th centuries. At that time, Angkor covered almost 3000 km² and had a population of nearly half a million inhabitants, making it the most populated capital of the pre-industrial world, exceeding the combined population of London and Paris during the same period.

Angkor's sudden disappearance remains a mystery to this day, evaporating from the map and becoming swallowed by the jungle in the 15th century. The first visit of a westerner to this lost area happened in 1586 by a Portuguese friar, António da Madalena, who recounted his exploratory experience to historian Diogo de Couto, who shortly afterwards wrote that Angkor Wat was 'so strange that one can hardly describe it with the pen, nor can one compare it to any other monument in the world.' This was a phrase that only much later would be published and made known to the world and given this historical context, setting foot and making photos on the same ground that someone described more than 500 years ago became, for me, a magical experience, again taking me back to a fantasised vision of how people would have lived and how one might feel to rediscover something so unique.

But Cambodia is not just about its otherworldly monuments. It is, above all, about its people. Victim of a regime that destroyed much of the adult population, present-day Cambodia has a population mostly composed of children and young people, but the horrors of the past have failed to erase their smile, hospitality and strength. It's an extremely young yet old country – probably one of the most beautiful and fascinating visual paradoxes in the Asian continent.

Check www.joelsantos.net for additional images from Cambodia and other exciting places in the world.

Little girl drinking water from a metal plate, Cambodia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens; the exposure was 1/800sec at f/4, ISO 2500.

Little girl drinking water from a metal plate, Cambodia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF70-200mm f/4L IS USM lens; the exposure was 1/800sec at f/4, ISO 2500. © Joel Santos - www.joelsantos.net

Little girl resting on a suspended fabric bed, Cambodia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens; the exposure was 1/200sec at f/4, ISO 2500.

Little girl resting on a suspended fabric bed, Cambodia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens; the exposure was 1/200sec at f/4, ISO 2500. © Joel Santos - www.joelsantos.net