Cambodia, photographs by Ian Taylor, on display at the FCC Phnom Penh through February 28, 2007.
See an online preview of Ian Taylor's "Cambodia."
Dominated by photographs of rural Cambodian kick boxing, Ian Taylor's second exhibition at the FCC Phnom Penh opens Friday January 19 with a huge, outdoor slide projection (a display nearly certain to draw massive street crowds).
Known locally as pradal serey, kick boxing is to Cambodia what rugby is to New Zealand. Nowhere is the passion for the sport greater than in the country's west, home to many of boxing's most well-known fighters.
During early 2006, Taylor spent a dozen weeks criss-crossing the back roads of Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces, engrossed in the sport's rural roots. Far from the TV cameras of Phnom Penh's boxing rings, Taylor's photographs capture a side of Cambodian boxing that few, if any, outsiders have ever seen.
Magnifying an already powerful subject is Taylor's own immense talent. Like all great photography, Taylor's photographs make his subjects human. He captures fighters not in an anonymous flurry of fists and kicks, but smiling between training sessions, pensive and focused before the opening bell, exhausted between rounds.
Nor is it just the faces inside the ring that capture Taylor's attention. Like Cambodia's multi-million-dollar counterparts in the West, a good fight will always attract an eclectic gaggle of gawkers, and Taylor's considerable talent for portraiture shines when he is crowd-gazing.
When the two subjects come together -- fighter and fan -- the resulting compositions radiate with all the tension worthy of a Las Vegas prize fight.
In one shot (above), a fighter stands nonchalantly in his corner waiting for the opening bell. He's got one foot perched on the bottom rope, one hand draped over the top rope and the other hand up by his cheek. In a different setting, he could be whispering sweet nothings to a sweetheart.
In giant contrast to the boxer's untroubled pose, a tense crowd looks on from outside the ropes. Small children, no doubt standing on their tip toes, peek from behind the weather-beaten canvass. Older men wait with visible concern. In the face of what must be certain defeat, the crowd cannot share the fighter's confidence.
But despite the expectations of those ringside, the young fighter has no plans for losing. And minutes later, when he draws first blood with a powerful elbow, the crowd roars.