Monk, The Bayon, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

A formal portrait of a monk at the Bayon in the Angkor Wat complex near Siem Reap, Cambodia. The scare on his face is the result of being tortured, with a cigarette, by the Khmer Rouge when he was a child.

Here’s an old image from a trip to Cambodia in the early 90’s. I met this monk while photographing the Bayon, a part of the famous Angkor Wat complex near the town of Siem Reap.

Apparently he was from a town around one hours drive from Angkor Wat, yet this was the first opportunity he’d had to visit the site. I asked him how he’d gotten the pockmark on his face. He answered with two words, Pol Pot. Further questions revealed that a member of the Khmer Rouge had pushed a lit cigarette into his face when he was a young boy.

Even the Downtrodden have the Power to Forgive

The physical scare remained, as did the memory of the torture. Hopefully his Buddhist beliefs have helped the monk come to terms with the actions of his tormentor.

The original image was made on negative (i.e., print) film and scanned. By today’s standards the scan is below par, so I’m treating this version has a rough proof. I plan to re-scan and reprint the image as part of a larger body of work on this beautiful country.

The Power Of the Gaze

Even after all these years I remember well being drawn to the monk’s eyes. His gaze was compelling and seemed to reveal an intensity bordering upon anger. The apparent contradiction between this intensity and the serenity and compassion associated with Buddhism is, to my mind, at the heart of this picture.

A very shallow Depth Of Field (i.e., DOF), achieved by photographing with my lens wide open to an aperture of f/4, helped isolate the monk from his surroundings, as does the use of the medium format Hasselblad 150 mm lens (roughly equivalent to a 100 mm lens on a full-frame DSLR camera).

I feel the camera’s square format provides an idea canvas onto which the line around the subject’s body and head are drawn. The relatively tight composition further enhances the tension within the image.

I’m very interested in the notion of duality, which is present in the intensity of the monks gaze, despite what we perceive as the serenity and compassion associated with Buddhism.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru