Daily Portfolio by David Holliday — The Phnom Penh X10 Files

David Holliday
David Holliday
By DAVID HOLLIDAY

I am a semi-professional photographer based in Phnom Penh where I have exhibitions and sell my work in some of the hotels and shops. My theme, at present, is the construction of photomontages of old colonial buildings. People seem to like them more than my gritty black-and-white street photography. To hang on a wall that is.

I use a Nikon SLR for this work with a 50mm F1.4G lens carried around in an old Lowepro bag. Not that heavy or difficult to lug around you might think, and after all only the one lens. About a year ago I had been looking at the Fujifilm X100 as a carry around street camera, but at the time I thought I would not be able to manage with the 35mm equivalent lens so I decided to try the Fujifilm X10 instead and had it sent from Singapore. I wanted a small discreet camera for street photography.

Photomontage | David Holliday
Photomontage | David Holliday

I also have an X-E1 with 35mm lens and I have captured some good street shots with it, but the X10 just seems to have more of the stealth factor.

I get around with a Honda Scoopy scooter. The scooter is a kind of modern Vespa, or so I like to think. Riding around I am as likely to see a woman pulling a cart laden with fruit or a cycle rickshaw (with a sinewy old man painfully pumping the pedals) as I am to run into a Rolls Royce.

The city is developing at a fast rate with expats doing business deals in trendy coffee shops and shiny white buildings mushrooming at every vacant block of land. From a photographic point of view I suppose it all depends what you want to capture. For me it’s the old surviving traditional aspects of Phnom Penh, such as the markets, back streets, alleys and the people.

I take my X10 everywhere, mostly leaving the Nikon at home. I keep the X10 in a custom leather belt pouch along with my phone. In this way I have a camera with me at all times and this has enabled me to capture many shots I would otherwise have missed.

It is not just the small, light, unobtrusive camera compared to the plastic brick like Nikon that enables me to take street shots; it is the setup on my waist. I have no other straps or case, I just draw it out twist the lens and shoot even if I am on my scooter.

I also use the presets so I have 1×1 black and white with filter on C1 and vivid color on C2. For me these dials are very practical and fast.

People do not mind having their photo taken as a rule, but the problem is to capture someone in their natural environment or setting. This can prove to be difficult. This is due to other people warning them their picture is about to be taken. A guy could be sleeping in his bicycle rickshaw and I take a photograph a but another fellow on a motorbike shouts at him and he wakes up a little bit ruffled. But all in all the X10 is a perfect stealth camera. I keep it on silent at all times. You cannot hear the shutter and it so small in my palm.

One of the first shots I took with the X10 was of a chess game in black and white. I was walking down the road saw the roadside game and just took the shot. The players hardly noticed. Later I was pleased with the composition with the Chivas whiskey box and the bottle tops to replace chess pieces, I actually sold a couple of these in print form, and they blew up well. After that I took a couple more chess games in black and white on the street.

David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday

Chess games are a bit of fun and take place on the street but card games for money are illegal and gambling in general is a big problem in Cambodia. I was sitting in this café waiting for a friend when I noticed the card game. I took out the camera, took the shot and went back to my coffee. The guy might or might not have minded, after all card players are poker faced, and a smile can mean anything here.

David Holliday
David Holliday

Black and white is a great medium, but color is important too. To be honest I do not understand the concept of the Leica Monochrom because if you are only carrying this, and you see something like these crushed cans what do you do? I was out and about taking pictures of old machinery and I saw this truck carrying several cubes of crushed cans on the way to some recycle plant no doubt.

I followed the truck through traffic for miles and although I did not lose it it also did not stop. Well eventually it did, and I took about 20 shots on the road. I also blew these up big and exhibited them. A friend’s computer even picked out a face in the crush.

David Holliday
David Holliday

The guy with a cigarette in his mouth is slightly out of focus and posed for his shot. He was waiting for a bus and just stood out in the crowd.

David Holliday
David Holliday

The crafty looking guy with a hat was sitting in a coffee shop at the riverside with some friends. I took three shots, none of them in focus by the look of them, but had to use this one as he seems to have so much going on in his face.

David Holliday
David Holliday

The same can be said of the big Belgium café owner Dejay and his Spanish friend Diego (a Spanish Flamenco guitarist) who are actually sharing a hat on Belgian national day in Phnom Penh. The other shot of him on his own also proved popular with his friends who ordered copies from me. I enclose another taken from some stairs in his café. The exposure could do with some working on but it I think it captures the feel of the café.

See? The X10 is a kind of notebook for me, a blogger instrument. It goes everywhere with me.

David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday

I was cutting through some back alleys on my bike and came across this old widow on a bed outside a small house; a widow I presume because of her shaved head and black-and-white clothes — and a small house as they seem to have kicked this grandmother out on to the street. But I am sure it was just cooler outside. The X10 is so unobtrusive, I really do not think she noticed me at all, and I took many pictures. I like the way her face blends with the rendered wall.

David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday
David Holliday

The sleeping guys were building laborers overcome by the heat and of course they did not notice me sneaking up with the X10.

David Holliday
David Holliday

More labourers from outside the city probably earning about $60 a month are brought into town by truck. A large proportion of them are woman. This picture is at the end of the day when they are all going home.

David Holliday
David Holliday

The Park Cafe is in a rare art deco building and really has charm I was taking pictures of the outside of the building when the waiter poked his head out. I thought this completed the shot and the X10 focused on cue.

David Holliday
David Holliday

Another art deco icon is the central market of Phnom Penh which looks like an orange concrete star fish. The light was getting really interesting from the grilled roof, and when it fell on this woman I grabbed the shot. I like her stance too and the fact she was also taking a picture.

David Holliday
David Holliday

Down another alley where families live in very crowded communities, I saw the dude sitting on his bike making two phone calls at the same time. He was not that happy I took his photo, and it was all a little dodgy at the time. I made my excuses and scootered off.

David Holliday
David Holliday

The last shot was just a charcoal seller’s feet. Actually there were two charcoal sellers asleep on their bags of charcoal on their truck. The truck was blocking the road so they were rudely awoken by the blasting of car horns. I liked the charcoal stained bare feet and just shot but could not frame both feet successfully.

I will not be upgrading to the X20, but am thinking of the X100S also for street photography as I would prefer a better IQ and low light capabilities in a small solid camera.

In the meantime the dinky little X10 is a stayer.

David Holliday is a freelance photographer from London who moved to Australia and now resides in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. He’s a self-taught jobbing photographer and who has fine art exhibitions in Phnom Penh.

David also really likes street photography, all the more in black and white. You can see a collection of photographs on his photo blog and gallery site.

  • Caroline

    Really enjoyed reading this piece – great photographs capturing spontaneous street life in Phnom Penh

  • mattijsw

    Interesting write up and as I mentioned elsewhere I really like some of the pictures, especially the ones from the widow on the bed and the young man with 2 phones. A few of he others have too much contrast to my liking which is not always very functional.
    I also like your photo montage! It reminded me of a (much debated) architecural highlight not far from my house; the Intell Hotel near Amsterdam. An actual real life montage of numerous copied façades of very old houses into a highly modern hotel.
    http://www.wam-architecten.nl/pers/Persinformatie.php
    Carry on with your street photography. The fact that everybody has cell phone cameras nowadays does not mean that there is no need for real people taking real pix with real cameras. ;)

    • Thank you for the comments. I have several montages and these can be seen on my word press link.. I like street photography and will be toning down the contrast in the next set.

  • dailymanila

    Excellent images you have here! Thank you for the tip in using the custom (C1 & C2) presets. Is there any particular reason why you chose 1:1 for the black & white setting?

  • Parabolala

    How do u set c2 to vivid color i want one :) thx