More than a dozen Sacramento photographers turned their lenses to Cambodia and Myanmar. Here’s what they caught.
Fifteen photographers began 2011 by packing up their cameras and heading off to Cambodia and Myanmar. From January 2 through 17, the group of mostly Sacramento-area artists—plus two from Illinois, one from Guam and one from China/Taiwan—were participants in a Viewpoint Photographic Art Center workshop led by Rick Murai. The tour was designed to visit a variety of visually striking sites, while leaving room to stop at unexpected photo opportunities. It was an emotionally moving experience for some, and the results of their excursion will be on display at Viewpoint for the month of March.
Murai, the leader of the pack, has been a professor at Yuba College for 32 years and has been traveling the world for just as long. He has led workshops in Europe before, but this was his first time escorting a group to Southeast Asia. He chose Cambodia and Myanmar because of “the architecture and archeological ruins—but the people are incredibly friendly,” he said.
“[Myanmar] is a military dictatorship,” Murai explained, “but in terms of personal safety, I think it’s one of the safest places you could be, because there’s not any mugging or pickpocketing, per se. I feel safer being in Cambodia and Myanmar, for the most part, than walking down Florin Road in Sacramento. Politically, it’s unsettled, and it’s unsettling to be there, but you just have to be careful what you say and who you talk to.”
It took Murai almost a year to plan the excursion, which began in Cambodia’s capital, Phnom Penh, then continued to Siem Reap and the temple ruins of Angkor Wat. They then headed to Myanmar’s ancient city of Bagan, known for its thousands of temples and pagodas. Finally, they visited Inle Lake, a “floating” village with buildings on stilts.
Participants paid $3,700 each, which included inter-Asia airfare, accommodations, guides in each city and chartered buses. According to Sacramento’s Anita Fein, who attended the workshop along with her husband, Larry, Murai “didn’t hesitate to say, ‘Stop the bus!’” for irresistible photo ops, like shooting oxen walking along the road.
This wasn’t Fein’s first tour abroad, but as a wanderlust photographer, she appreciates the unhurried pace the workshop provided. She has fond memories of waking at 4:30 or 5:00 each morning for sunrise shoots at temples, moving through the hundreds of people and international tourists at a Myanmar pagoda festival, and witnessing a parade of monks asking for alms.
The site that had the deepest impact on Fein was Cambodia’s killing fields. “Both of our guides were majorly affected by the Khmer Rouge. Our guide and his wife in Phnom Penh fled. They walked to Vietnam. And when we went to the killing fields where [the Khmer Rouge] killed so many people, it was a really emotional, heavy day,” she recounted, her voice cracking a little.
Husband and wife Steve and Susan Solinsky of Nevada City also took the journey abroad, and they agree visiting the killing fields was powerful. “The other thing that stood out was the kindness of people,” Susan said. “In Third World countries, there’re these extremes of poverty that we don’t have any idea about, and in the midst of that, children are playing, smiling. Life goes on. … It just says a lot about the human spirit.”
For the Solinskys, who used to run Mowen Solinsky Gallery, the workshop altered the way they photograph as well. Both made the switch from film to digital for the excursion, including Steve learning how to use his recently acquired Canon EOS 5D Mark II. “This trip for me was my introduction to using that camera,” he said. “In some cases, I felt like it was double-crossing me.”
Another notable change was that Steve had never before photographed people intentionally as a subject. “But because of the situation we found ourselves in, that possibility opened up. … One of those times was when we visited a grammar school in [Myanmar], and we were able to visit while class was in session. And that was wonderful, because the kids were so excited and so happy to see us—and they were so cute,” Steve said with a laugh.
Murai created the Cambodia and Myanmar itinerary to be a “real multifaceted experience,” and has plans to organize more workshops abroad. Bhutan, Peru, and hopefully Egypt and Syria are on the destination list. For now, a sampling of images taken by Murai, the Feins, the Solinskys and the others who traveled to southern end of Asia—including Northern Californians Vicki Bayne, Bruce Gregory, Jenny Bly Johnson, Reverdy Johnson, Marta Kravech and Anna Skacel—are on display at Viewpoint.