Capturing Angkor Before Tourism Works Its Changes

A feature about John McDermott, an American photographer who specialises in taking surreal photographs of Angkor. The black-and-white photography of Angkor is really good, but more telling is his quote about how tourism will -and is- changing the face of Angkor.

09 June 2007 (New York Times) – A feature about John McDermott, an American photographer who specialises in taking surreal photographs of Angkor. The black-and-white photography of Angkor is really good, but more telling is his quote about how tourism will -and is- changing the face of Angkor.

Capturing Angkor Before Tourism Works Its Changes

A 52-year-old photographer from Little Rock, Ark., Mr. McDermott may be the Ansel Adams of Angkor. In the last decade, his photographs have almost become the definitive images of the temples. His pictures — the silhouette of a stone lion at sunset, monks resting on a windowsill, apsara dancers primping before a performance — are not just beautiful but iconic.

Another eureka moment came five years later, when he returned to Angkor for an exhibition of his photographs at the Grand Hotel d’Angkor in Siem Reap, the town that serves as a base for exploring the temples. The new luxury hotel was, to McDermott’s surprise, full of tourists. “I recognized two things,” he said. “One, that the tourism industry had just had the fuse lit for Angkor” and two, that the magical-looking temples were going to change from the tourist onslaught.

Sensing that time was of the essence, he returned on his own several months later to “get as comprehensive a portrait of Angkor as I could,” he said. “I wanted them to look as if they’d been taken 300 years ago, 500 years ago, or yesterday — or tomorrow.”

Read the feature about John McDermott and his photographs of Angkor.

Books about Angkor:
Angkor Cities and Temples by C. Jaques
Ancient Angkor (River Book Guides) by C. Jaques
The Treasures of Angkor: Cultural Travel Guide (Rizzoli Art Guide) by M. Albanese
Angkor: Cambodia’s Wondrous Khmer Temples, Fifth Edition by D. Rooney and P. Danford
Angkor: A Tour of the Monuments by T. Zephir and L. Invernizzi

Author: Noel Tan

Dr Noel Hidalgo Tan is the Senior Specialist in Archaeology at SEAMEO-SPAFA, the Southeast Asian Regional Centre for Archaelogy and Fine Arts.

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