Photo above – a family run market stall in Phnom Penh.
In 2012 I went to Cambodia for the first time. I’d also just sold my beloved Canon 5D M2 and switched to film because I wanted to create restrictions and push myself photographically – from a technical perspective at least. The restraints of film allowed me to do that.
Technically these photos failed for a number of reason. At the time it was frustrating but now after rescanning the negatives I don’t really care. The details don’t matter at all. It’s the memories that they evoke and the sense of excitement I feel when I view them that makes them valuable.
The whole trip (of which if you dig deep enough on this website you’ll find fragments of) was the first time in a few years where I felt as if I were out on an adventure similar to the days backpacking around Australia, India, the Philippines, and Hong Kong. Back then I left home at 20 with no real plan except to get as far away from home as possible. I’d spent far too much of my teens glued to Around the World in Eight Days and Pole to Pole starring Michael Palin, and The Lonely Planet TV starring Ian Wright (the traveller, not the ex-Arsenal striker!), or with my head stuck deep in a copy of a 1990s edition of Work Your Way Around the World by Susan Griffith. That was (is?) the book that changed my life.
Phnom Penh was a fascinating place. I promised myself I’d return but ten years have passed since I said that and I’m no nearer returning today. With changing responsibilities and a different world in 2022 I have no idea if I’ll ever keep my promise.
All of the above are technically awful and taken alone, in the centre of Phnom Penh while family were far away elsewhere.
Nowadays other things take priority.
Last week for the first time since the pandemic began I booked a flight back to the UK for myself, my wife, and my daughter. If all stays relatively calm in Covidland* my daughter will finally get the chance to meet her British grandparents in person. Unsurprisingly my mother burst into tears when I told her and I had to strategically angle the iPad so that dad wouldn’t see his eldest son fighting back tears. Whenever I think about it – even right now – I tear up. Not for one second in my twenties (when I moved to Japan and married) did I ever consider what life would be like 20+ years later with a sick parent on one side of the world and a young daughter on the other and Covid everywhere in-between. Sure, nobody knows the future but that doesn’t change how I occasionally feel. I regularly find myself cringing at my selfishness when I look back at those years as the majority of my photographs evoke memories based on solo adventures in far flung parts of the world, not enough are of my family back home.
That needs to change.
This isn’t meant to be depressing and I hope it’s not. To me it’s a realisation, another step towards maturity and responsibility that comes with age, and an understanding of the things that really matter. There’s a lot that can be learnt from old photos, and even more perhaps from what’s happened since early 2020.
Life is wonderful and so to are places like Phnom Penh, Hong Kong, India. But none of them are home.