Beverly Hills — For more than a decade, American photographer John McDermott has devoted himself to capturing the soul of the ancient Khmer capital of Angkor on film. His new exhibit features a collection of monochromatic Angkor photos from his new book Elegy: Reflections on Angkor, a study of the stone temple ruins in Cambodia.
McDermott first visited Cambodia in the mid-1990s, when the country was still recovering from decades of civil war and genocide. When he returned again in 2000, the photographer committed himself to recording the ancient ruins of the mysterious Khmer civilization that were still untouched and unknown to most of the world.
The Khmer Empire flourished from the 9th to the 14th centuries, but its magnificent capital of Angkor — with temples covering almost 250 square miles — was virtually abandoned to the jungle upon its collapse.
In the late 19th century, French explorer Henri Mouhot brought the civilization to the attention of the West for the first time. Since then, the Angkor archaeological complex has welcomed an increasing number of international tourists and researchers. Some two million visitors are expected this year.
McDermott’s vision was to create a comprehensive portrait of the temples in a timeless style mirroring the mystery of a place that has almost no written history. As the book and exhibit reveal, McDermott’s images were made before this major influx of tourism changed the character of these remote jungle ruins. Sadly, many of the views McDermott captured in his photographs are no longer visible due to changes in infrastructure and restoration efforts.
Hailed as “the Ansel Adams of Angkor” by The New York Times, McDermott’s body of work reveals “a moody, surrealistic world redolent with the mysterious spirit one encounters when visiting.”
The exhibit at the Sundaram Tagore gallery includes sepia-toned silver gelatin prints and archival pigment ink prints. To create his vision, McDermott uses specialized black and white film and strong darkroom interpretation.
His book, Elegy: Reflections on Angkor, was released in 2010. His photographs are on display as part of the permanent collection in the National Museum in Phnom Penh, and are held in private collections around the world.
Oprah has chosen “Elegy: Reflections on Angkor” as one of “18 Books to Watch” in April 2011.
American-born photographer John McDermott has been dubbed the “Ansel Adams of Angkor”—and you can see why: His moody photos of Cambodian temples are full of light and shadow as befits both ancient peoples and current circumstance.
— Sara Nelson
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