Local Photographer Simon J Newbury In Cultural Visit To Cambodia

By Rach Griffiths.

Local photographer Simon J Newbury is well known in the area for his superb work photographing all kinds of things from weddings to birthdays and always makes sure that he gets himself involved in local charity and community events.

This time he has hopped over the oceans to Cambodia to soak himself into the local culture.

SAM_0584Simon recently had the chance to visit Cambodia and embarked on what turned out to be the trip of a lifetime for him, it heavily involved his love of photography, where he took some fantastic pictures of a strikingly beautiful country and its people.

I caught up with Simon to find out about this trip and what his favourite experiences were during his 12 days in the country.

I asked him what made him choose Cambodia in particular for his photography adventure.

Simon said:
“Cambodia chose me, a friend of mine who I have known for many years went on a hiking holiday in south East Asia where she visited some astounding places like, China, Hong Kong, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia to name a few. She had various people meeting her at various stages and I was invited to join her on the Cambodia section of the trip. I was more than happy to go out to Cambodia and had a very memorable time.
As a portrait photographer I decided to use my time in the country to capture portraits of local people and soak myself into the local culture.

I set myself a task of trying to get fifty portraits of people that I would meet during my 12 days over there, this meant that I needed to be taking at least four pictures a day to meet my goal.
We were not talking of taking over a studio or anything like that, this was all about capturing the moment in natural ambient light with just a camera and no flash.
I just photographed people as I met them, capturing the real people of Cambodia going about their daily business.
I wanted it to be about normal people in their normal everyday environment.
I did want to do some of the tourist things like visiting temples and learning about the local culture but 85% of my main task was to

photograph the people and capture the real feel of them and their country”.

SJN Cambodia

In the end Simon ended up with over 150 beautiful portraits of locals along with over 1000 pictures of the countryside scenery and ancient Cambodian temples.

I wanted to know how he overcome the language barrier and also if the locals tried to question him on what he was doing and why.

Simon continued:

“They speak Khmer which is the official language of Cambodia.


I only speak one word of this and that is thank you so you can imagine how difficult it was at first.

A lot of my work was candid street photography which I must say is a bit out of my comfort zone but soon managed to ease myself into it.
Some people spoke limited English so the biggest part of it was reading body language.
I dont like to impose on anybody and it was quite easy to tell those that really were not keen on having their picture taken and I respected that.

Luckily I found that most people were quite happy to be photographed for my portraits and were very nice towards me.
A lot of communication was visual rather than conversation so even with no speech it went very well.

In Phnom Penh the people were very friendly and were more than happy to be photographed”.

Siem Reap
Siem Reap is in the North of the country and there is a lot more tourist activities to take part in.
This was a place that Simon really enjoyed as he got the chance to see some of the more hidden places that Cambodia has to offer and learn more about the more traditional cultural elements.

Simon said:
“I hired an English speaking tour guide which was a real big help indeed as he was very happy to translate things for us which made the visit a lot easier and helped me to get a lot of pictures I would never have got on my own.
I used the tour guide to help me explain to the people what I wanted to do, this also worked brilliantly as it enabled the locals to ask their own questions about myself.
The guide was a very valuable help in other ways too as there are lots of customs and traditions that you need to be aware of.

There are a lot of Buddhist monks around the area and they believe that when you photograph them it takes some of their soul away so you have to be very mindful of what other people believe in and respect them.
Having someone to talk to people and help me engage with the locals meant my rate of portraits in the north of the country were a lot higher than when I was out and about on my own down in Phnom Penh.
When I went back to Phnom Penh I understood a lot more about the local culture and had a better understanding of things which helped immensely.

SJN CambodiaDuring his time in the country he got to meet lots of people from all kinds of different backgrounds such as beggars, fisherman, farmers and lots of children.

Simon went on to say that Cambodia does have areas of poverty where people live on only a dollar a day which is around 70p.

Simon added:
I tried to leave them a small contribution in return for letting me take their photograph and that makes a massive difference to them but I never offended anybody.
Some children were not at school as the families could not afford it so they were busy working to bring in money for their family.
It was very eye opening and these people were very hard working.

Simon says that Cambodia is the most exciting place he has ever travelled to.

Simon commented:
“I have been to Iceland, Belgium and America as well as some other places but Cambodia was like stepping back in time to a certain extent.

The weather was very hot, one day in particular it was 40 degrees and was quite a cultural shock to me.
You step out from the hotel which is air conditioned and come out straight into the heat.
I did end up getting used to it but I did have problems with my camera steaming up and other things.
When I was visiting the Byon temple I just had to sit down because it was very hot and really needed to rest as it was just too much.
The country has a large and rich archaeological history in Buddhist and Hindu temples which was very interesting to me as a photographer”.

SJN CambodiaAs someone who has never been abroad I imagine that you cannot go without sampling the local food so what did he learn about that?

Simon commented:
“You cannot to Cambodia without learning a lot about local cuisine, some of the photos I have taken are of people cooking rice which I then tried and it was delicious.


The rice I ate was from the very fields I was sat whilst eating and the view was amazing.


There was a lot of Noodles, Peppers and Chicken on offer, I even had egg fried rice for breakfast.
The only thing I didnt try for breakfast were Chillies as it was a bit too early for me”.

Local Customs
SJN Cambodia
All in all Simon had a fantastic time and recommends that if you are to go anywhere then Cambodia must be on your list of choices.
The country is full of ancient traditions and there is so much to soak yourself into.

Simon added:
“I went for a ride on a water buffalo cart and the only way to get into it was to actually climb onto the water buffalo and then into the cart.
It was a bit rickety and I got off halfway round and found myself in the middle of a rural area surrounded by people farming and lots of children.
I took some pictures here where they looked at me curiously but were still happy for me to be there.
It was the trip of a lifetime, If I went back again I would definitely hire an English speaking Tuk-Tuk driver and go out into the wider city areas.
I visited a Buddhist academy thanks to the Tuk-Tuk driver, a Tuk-Tuk is like a moped and can be very fast.
He spoke to the monks and they agreed to let me in and show me around which I felt very honoured to do.
I saw young children in the academy and they were pleased to see us, they gave me full permission to take their photo.

SJN CambodiaA big thanks to Simon for speaking to me on behalf of The Crewe News about his trip and taking the time to show us through some of his lovely pictures.

For more information on Simon J Newbury and his Cambodia project please visit his dedicated project website on the link below or check out the slide show at the bottom of this page.
Portraits Of Cambodia



Story ©Rach Griffiths 2013
Pictures & Video ©Simon J Newbury 2013