Phare, The Cambodian Circus and Phare Ponleu Selpak
Cambodian youth flew through the air as dancers graced elaborately lit stages, relating the rich history of Cambodia with intricate movements accompanied by ancient music. Light, color and form came together and images captured even the tiniest details in the darkness, emphasizing the importance of performance arts education to the future of Cambodia.
Phare, The Cambodian Circus, was one of the many projects run by the Phare Ponleu Selpak Academy (PPSA), which was founded in 1994 by a group of Cambodian men living in refugee camps. They recognized the healing power of visual arts and sought to bring these lessons to the street children in their hometowns who were at risk for drug abuse and domestic violence, and made their living doing migrant work. Their goal was to create a holistic approach to solving social problems through arts education and to provide access to the arts and vocational training to children and young adults in their communities. Many of the circus trainees at Phare go on to work internationally in performing arts or in Siem Reap, Cambodia, at Phare’s main circus and dance performance venue.
This shoot was located in Battambang, a city in Northwestern Cambodia. I photographed young Cambodians, aged 6-25, who took part in daily acrobatics training, aerial arts, juggling, and traditional dance lessons. From there, I traveled to Siem Reap to photograph Phare’s largest performances, which occurred nightly. The performers were photographed in elaborate costumes and makeup backstage and then as they participated in traditional Cambodian dance. This was combined with acrobatic performances under a magnificent array of lights.
The training and performance aspects of this project gave me the opportunity to use the camera under both adequate and low lighting, natural and artificial, at a variety of shutter speeds to freeze motion and create movement. The makeup and costumes presented a fantastic aesthetic opportunity for formal and candid portraits to showcase these rich traditions expressing a strong Cambodian future.
About Lauren DeCicca
Lauren DeCicca, b. 1989, is a documentary photographer from New York who is now based in Bangkok, Thailand.
Prior to moving to Thailand, Lauren spent three years (2013 - 2016) based in Yangon, Myanmar documenting the country at the beginning of its transition to democracy. Her goal documenting the lives of people around the world is to help those who have no access to such situations understand that the subjects of her photographs could easily be their parent, sibling or partner. Despite differences in language, skin color, religion or way of life, everyone has a similarity in spirit and the same basic needs for empathy, understanding and acceptance.
Her editorial work has been published by Getty Images, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, TIME.com, The Washington Post, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Buzzfeed News, The Guardian, and more. Lauren was member of the Getty Reportage 2015-2016 Emerging Talent roster, added to Fathom Away’s Top 25 Travel Photographers of 2016, and selected as one of Photo Boite's 30 Under 30 Women Photographers of 2017.