"Noodle Soup and Other Morning Rituals by the Mekong," photography by Angelica Arbulu. On display at The FCC Phnom Penh until December 9. Slide-show projection November 29, 8 p.m., as part of the opening festivities of Photo Phnom Penh.
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The river front district in Phnom Penh offers a panoply of contradictions.
Wat Ounalom overlooks a park frequented by prostitutes. The Royal Palace sits next to a community of street people who call the park bathrooms home. Nightlife venues in the area mostly serve a foreign crowd, with locals on the outside staring in.
For Spanish photographer Angelica Arbulu the tone of those contrasts served as introductory lessons to her new home in Phnom Penh. From Kandal Market in the heart of the district to the Royal Palace and beyond, the water front provided a classroom in which Arbulu immersed herself in a study of the Cambodian character.
"Everything I do has to do with people. I try to understand who they are and what moves them, and then look for a way to capture that."
Arbulu arrived in Phnom Penh with her newborn daughter and husband in the summer of 2006. Like many new parents she awoke early, which suited her well in a country unaccustomed to sleeping in. She spent her mornings on long walks with Mila, her 3-month-old daughter, and her Nikon D300.
"For months Mila and I would head off to the river at dawn, camera in hand," she recalls. "At this time the sun and the heat are still kind, the streets are not too crowded, and the colors are just beginning to wake up."
The images from those walks eventually provided the basis for "Noodle Soup and Other Morning Rituals by the Mekong," on display at The FCC Phnom Penh until December 9. A selection of her 20 most favorite photographs from that time — roughly half of them in black-and-white — the exhibition is a captivating discovery of local morning life along the riverfront in Phnom Penh.
The climax of the month-long run comes at 8 p.m. on November 29, when Arbulu will be on hand to present an extended slide-show projection of "Noodle Soup" to a crowd gathered to celebrate the opening of Photo Phnom Penh, a week-long photography festival.
Like much of the country itself, most of the faces in Arbulu's photographs are young, many just toddlers. They are kids playing in the sand tracks outside the National Museum, cutting flowers at the pagoda, resting under the trees that shade the river's edge.
"This exhibition seeks to capture the Cambodia we discovered," Arbulu says. "When the riverfront cast is gearing up for the day and going about their business, doing mundane tasks that have become a part of who they are, and that define the city itself. The small details and errands that often go unnoticed."
Some of Arbulu's most memorable shots come in black-and-white — a placid young girl standing on the sidewalk surrounded by pigeons in mid-flight, a barefoot youngster sleeping on the sidewalk near the Royal Palace.
"I try to give an honest reflection of what I see. But I also want the outcome to be beautiful, because I believe art should be beautiful. But also because there is beauty in everything."