I took these shots at the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh. I’m not a big one for museums and stuff. The outdoors is more my scene. But the skyline of the capital was a really striking one, chocked full of these ornate and really quite spectacular spires. I’ve always been a fan of the traditional south-east Asian architecture- there’s something very evocative about it. It is at once mystical and intricate and ornate, and brings to mind a freize from a dance, as if the architect formed the structures from fluid, then held them at just the right moment.
It was afternoon (the place only opens after lunch at 2pm, presumably a hangover from its French colonial influence), so the light grew low and warm- not great for polarizers (which tend to get big ugly smears when the angle of the light becomes too low), but nice to capture some contrast on the architecture. This pair I set up deliberately, shooting first from the side facing the light, and then shooting contre-jour (against the day). In technical terms, this involves setting the camera to balance itself for the light part of the image rather than the dark part, which means that the dark part becomes very under-exposed (black, a silhouette) while the light part retains some colour and doesn’t ‘burn out’ (overexpose, or become nothing but hot white that ruins the frame). A bit of careful framing, and I was quite pleased with the two opposing images.
The palace is beautiful. We spent a couple of hours wandering around it, most just snapping shots of the architecture. I admit I’m a heathen when it comes to culture and history, and without jumping onto Wikipedia I couldn’t tell you a thing about the place, other than, “Dang, it sure looks purdy”.
Phnom Penh is a fantastic little town, something I wasn’t expecting. I’m not generally an urban thriver. I love just a handful of cities. Bangkok, because it’s so full of life and flavours and light and colour- dirty and brash and haunted in equal measures by a hint of the exotic, and a hint of that odour of sewerage and rotting food that is uniquely Krung Thep. Cairo, because it’s perhaps the most intense city in the world, a ceaseless blur of people and traffic beneath a relentless desert sun, filthy and noisy and flowing with life and history and civilization. Istanbul, because it’s a stunning confluence of east and west, Europe and Asia, mosque and basilica, Ottoman and Byzantine, riven by the picturesque Bosphorus and wound about with passageways carved by centuries. There’s a few others in there as well: Manhattan for its sheer scale and cool (and Central Park); Melbourne for its diversity and lifestyle; oddly, sleepy Niamey, for just being a harmless little backwater in the centre of Africa.
Phnom Penh, for its sense of history, is none of these beautiful, grubby, chaotic places. Grubby, yes. Chaotic, yes. Beautiful, yes, that too, in its spire-pocked skyscape. But it’s a quieter, less seething place. Phnom Penh is sedate side-streets with coffee-houses and gift shops; moodily-lit contemporary bars and restaurants along the Mekong; and rickshaw drivers who will ask to give you a ride (and a number of other things, if you give them your ear for a moment), but who grin and wave you off happily when you turn them down with a friendly smile. I wasn’t expecting to enjoy my time in the city, but by the time my two days there were up, I felt I could have spent longer letting my soul refresh. Highly recommended.