Discussion, Photography, Projection
This photo project explores emanating love between a young and old generation of Khmer-Americans. Participants of this prompt-based project were asked to submit photographs of an elder they love and respect, to then be used as light onto the surface of the participants’ bodies. Their bodies, bathing in the new form the photograph has taken, create a relationship texturally and symbolically. Each person, each generation, reflects each other and creates a new portrait.
The objective of this project––one that's still ongoing and leaves me plenty of room for investigation––is to unwrap my identity and position as a second-generation Khmer-American and share that process with others in similar positions. To think about what it means to be Khmer-American today; to consider the brutal history our elders––even our parents––faced and examine the product of our very different upbringings in the United States.
I've always been interested in my family history. For every story that'd been told, I always knew there were ten untold. The more I've been able to learn, the greater amount of similarities and differences have been drawn out between myself and preceding generations. Why does it matter? I often ask myself the same thing, and fix on the pure fascination with the transfer of identities over time. How we see (or don't see) ourselves in our parents, grandparents, and further. It's a curiosity of identity I believe many think about, but not many have the opportunity to talk about. That's why I set up multiple rounds of group discussion—to set aside time dedicated to deeper thinking and reflection.
I was incredibly fortunate to gather a group of Khmer-American friends that were excited to participate in the project. It was a pleasant surprise that they were just as curious about discussing their families and backgrounds—willing to share their own experiences and observations with other young Khmer-Americans. Leading the conversation, I posed questions chronologically from childhood to adulthood; each question progressively peeling back layers of thought and sentiment. For example, I first asked of a favorite childhood food, then a memory of childhood, then to reflect. The hours we spent discussing quickly flew by as we struck numerous areas of related experiences, and found great interest in doing so. We even discovered that some of us were not only friends, but family. This experience allowed me to see a greater picture and was important to me becoming a step closer to understanding our generation's identity.
Following the discussion portion of the project, I asked participants to submit photos of an elder family member they loved—and if they would be comfortable with me manipulating those images for a photo experiment. From the start, I'd known that the visual follow-up to the discussion would be a play on generational impression and bestowment; to weave two distinct generations into a single frame and create a moment of reflection. I turned to using light from a projector as a means of imposing the submitted photos onto the subjects. In doing this, I searched for compelling compositions—often found with the marriage of body structures onto another (a smile on the subject's core). I recommended simple posing for my subjects, and for them to find a position they felt natural in. Some turned to the Sampeah—a common hand and head gesture to present respect to an elder. Unlike other shoots I've conducted, the dynamic felt throughout this one was very calm and almost emotional; heavy and ghostly. I believe we all experienced a moment of deep reflection in the making of this work.