Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Len's on Cambodia beauty


photo by Scott Smeltzer / Press-Telegram
Greg Mellen of the Long Beach Press Telegram in the United States brings us another of his regular updates from the Cambodian Long Beach community.
Photos of a changing land aim at a fresh view
Botumroath Keo Lebun wants to change the way the world sees Cambodia. And she's taking a rather literal approach toward her goal. While much of the world attention on Cambodia is focused on tourism at the suddenly crazily popular Angkor Wat temple complex and the resuscitated Khmer Rouge tribunals, Lebun wants to show a different picture of Cambodia.
So beginning today, a month-long photography exhibition of LeBun's images entitled "Rivers of Life" opens in Long beah. "I wasn't interested in the typical things," Lebun says. "I was more interested in documenting the beauty of the country. I wanted to show a beautiful place."
Lebun is a native Cambodian, but was born just before the Khmer Rouge rise to power. And while she has no real memories of the murderous reign of the regime, which left about 1.7 million dead in its wake, she was profoundly affected. Her father was killed when she was three months old. Lebun and her family were forced from their home in Kampot Province and shipped to Battambang Province near the Thai border. When the Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge in 1979, Lebun and her family moved to a refugee camp and in 1981 to the Bronx inNew York City. "Another war zone," she says ruefully. Lebun refers to herself as a 1.5-generation Cambodian, influenced by the culture and traditions of her mother, but highly Americanized.
She graduated from Buffalo University with a degree in political science. It was on a trip to Cambodia in 1998 that she met noted Vietnam War photographer Philip Jones Griffiths and discovered a new interest. Since then, Lebun has honed her artistic skills, returned to Cambodia to work for a nongovernmental organization or NGO, received a master's degree from the Columbia School of Journalism and attended the School of International and Public Affairs.
During the trips to Cambodia, Lebun said she began to make connections through her images.
"They say food and learning are the way to understand your culture," Lebun says. "For me it was through (photography)." As a political scientist and journalist, Lebun understood one side of Cambodia: the geopolitics of the area, the evolving society and the influences that are changing the country. But through photography, she discovered something more elemental, something pure that is disappearing from the landscape. That's what she's trying to present in her exhibit - a lifestyle and a culture defined by the Tonle Sap and Mekong River. These are people and a culture that aren't seen in burgeoning Siem Reap, the gateway to Angkor Wat, or Phnom Penh, but are being subsumed by the changing culture. "With all the land grabbing going on, there is a beauty that will be gone," Lebun says. "I give it like 10 years." As a self-proclaimed 1.5-generation member, Lebun feels a responsibility to the Cambodian-American community.
Tonight, Lebun plans to auction some of her pieces with a portion of the proceeds going to the Cambodia Town Inc., helping to promote the newly designated stretch of Anaheim Avenue.
When not working at her full-time job as a program coordinator at USC, she is active as a volunteer in the Cambodia Culture and Arts Association, where she has been doing grant writing. She hopes later this year to begin a photojournalism book about the Cambodian Community in Long Beach. For the moment, however, Lebun's focus is on tonight's festivities, beginning at 6:30. She plans to have a Cambodian band, Cambodian finger food and, she hopes, a Cambodian celebrity or two. "It's going to be a hot night," Lebun says.

No comments: