Monday, March 23, 2009

Presenting life on the move

Written by Jonathan Allison
Friday, 20 March 2009

French photograher Jean-Francois Perigois finds a ‘system' within the dizzying chaos of Phnom Penh's city streets in his new exhibition at Equinox

One of the photographs showcased at the "Part of the Process" exhibition.
Having been in the country on and off for more than seven years, Jean-Francois Perigois is no stranger to Cambodia. During this time, he has observed vast changes and discovered that transport, or what he refers to as "the wheel of life", has played an essential part in this change.

"Transport is part of the process of change, but it is also part of the process of life. For those who own the transport, the wheel is so important. It is like the wheel of life," he said.

More than 35 interpretations of the crucial role that the varied forms of transport play in the life of Phnom Penh are documented in Perigois's latest exhibition "Part of The Process", which opens tonight at Equinox.

Perigois, a self-taught photographer, started his career in Paris but left the country to travel after he found it difficult to make a living through pursuing his passion.

Having done the tourist route through Southeast Asia, Perigois was drawn back to Cambodia again and again.
Having had numerous exhibitions in Cambodia at venues including Raffles Le Royal Hotel and Restaurant Le Liban, Perigois is well known locally for his portraits of people and capturing what he refers to as "the instant of life".

"Part of the Process" represents a departure from the artist's usual style.

"[At first], I thought about a collection of photos of the Asian minorities but [then I thought], no, I'm in Cambodia, the photos should be from Cambodia as well."

He then realised that he wanted to create something different from previous exhibitions. Perigois then noticed an often overlooked, if ever present, aspect of life in Cambodia - transport.

"It looks chaotic, an everyday obstacle for many, but there is a kind of system. It is somehow organised, and miraculously there are very few accidents."

The variety of different modes of transport struck a chord with him.
It occurred to Perigois that transport is not only the lifeblood of the country, as it is in any country, but it is also the lifeblood of the people who own it and use it.

"For many people, their transport is their life, part of the wheel of life. Take that away from them and they have nothing," he said.

A dizzying pace
But Cambodia is changing. There are fewer cyclos and more Lexises, more people on the roads, more produce to move.
"You can go to any of the big markets and see people, all day, moving goods on their family transport, just trying to make enough money for them and their families to survive, all vying for space on the over-crowded roads with new, expensive cars."

It's this idea of "social distortion" that Perigois finds fascinating.
"The changes are becoming more and more apparent - lots of new buildings appearing and many old buildings disappearing - but still there will be people making a living with their precious transport."

This ideal can be seen in many of his telling images of people going about their daily, unchanged lives in the thick of the dizzying pace of development - a part of the daily process of life.

Unlike in his previous work, Perigois has manipulated the colour in his images, the subject being in colour and the background in black and white. It is an interesting device, in that it accentuates the subject, but this is not Perigois's primary goal.

"The transport is moving. That is the instant that I want to capture. The colour keeps it in the present, whereas the black and white is the past. It's already happened."

Perigois hopes that his exhibition will help people to open their minds and look carefully at different ways of life
"I'm happy for people to get a connection with my images. I hope that people can look at the streets with more interest and compassion."

"Part of the Process" opens today at 7pm at Equinox and runs through May 1.

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