Ellie Dyer meets a driven student whose passion for history is allowing a new audience to appreciate images of Cambodia’s past.
Hunting for historic photographs may be an unusual hobby for a young university student in bustling Phnom Penh, but for 20-year-old Sokmean Srin it’s an enduring passion that he wants to share with the nation.
Despite his tender years, the affable student is the driving force behind Amazing Cambodia — a Facebook page dedicated to publishing stunning images of yesteryear, including the colonial era and pre-1975 Cambodia.
Since its creation in March 2012, the page has garnered a huge fan base, with more than 18,000 ‘likes’ and a wide range of local and foreign photo contributors, including renowned 1960s film stars Dy Saveth and Virak Dara.
Fascinating posts include an image of the first newspaper published in Cambodia in 1937, a colour photograph of a vintage car near Wat Phnom in the 1940s and a street barber tending a customer in 1951. But Sokmean has decided not to limit the collections to the virtual sphere. The history buff is gearing up for a new challenge: the first Amazing Cambodia exhibition, which is set to be shown at Meta House from Aug. 31 until Sep. 6.
“I don’t know why I love such old stuff, when many teenagers love modern things,” says the third-year English and tourism student, while meeting AsiaLIFE during preparations for the show. “But for example, I listen to a song and then I’m curious. I want to know who the composer is, who the singer is, and then I try to find out. That’s my personality.”
The focus of Amazing Cambodia’s debut show is the ‘Golden Age’ of late 1950s and 1960s Cambodian history. Images explore diverse aspects of life in the post-independence era, from film, architecture and music to historic events and landscapes.
“I am really interested in this era because in Cambodian history it’s an era of development,” says Sokmean, who searches archives, old magazines and the web in order to gain permission from copyright owners to share their images online.
Ultimately, he hopes that sharing interesting photographs with fellow students via social media will inspire more young people, like himself, to engage with history. Facebook can provide a link between the past and the present, he says.
“Many teenagers are severely influenced by other cultures, like Korea, so that’s a big point of why I share Cambodian culture. I want them to see how amazing their country was in the past — maybe it can turn their interest,” he explains.
The Amazing Cambodia photo exhibition runs until Sep. 6 at Meta House on Sothearos Boulevard. Entry is free. For more information, visit the Amazing Cambodia Facebook page or email firstname.lastname@example.org.