The Photograph Explained: Angkor Wat by Robert James Elliott

angkor 11 salt print

Salt Print

It was not a light decision, choosing a pinhole camera, as my only camera for an overseas trip to a special place called, Angkor Wat, in Cambodia.

But this is the choice I made in November 2014.

I set off with a beautifully built (by Ian Latter, Boxes in Wood) pinhole camera and a dozen double darks, an empty box and full box of 4 x 5 film.

When I arrived, I went to the Angkor Wat offices at the site and booked a seven day pass, you can get anything from one day to seven, but the latter seemed appropriate, as the site is a big complex.

For those not aware, Angkor Wat in its beauty and state of preservation, is unrivalled. 

Angkor Wat is located about six kilometers (four miles) north of Siem Reap. It was built in the first half of the 12th century (113-5BC). Estimated construction time of the temple is 30 years by King Suryavarman II. Its perfection in composition, balance, proportions, relief’s and sculpture make it one of the finest monuments in the world.

My days always started early, not only because I wake early and love the early morning light, it tends to beat the crowd, for a while.

The good thing about pinhole (especially my wide angle pinhole camera which is 48mm) is that it allows you to get in close, like real close and therefore minimises human traffic moving through the picture, while taking an exposure.

angkor 20 salt print

My exposures were around 3 minutes or thereabouts, using 100 ISO film.

After going out to shoot in the morning, the rest of the day was planning for the next and seeing some other features around town.

Come about 2 am, up and into the bathroom and lay everything out on the floor, to change my film that had already been exposed for some fresh sheets and ready for another day.  Not easy with humidity and sweaty palms. It had to be that time in the morning to minimize lights that could be on outside or in the corridors of the hotel.

One of the biggest issues I had was with the long exposures, especially when the crowds started to arrive, it allowed enough time for people arriving at the site I was photographing, to walk into the pictures, without them knowing I was taking a picture, after all the pinhole does not look so much like a modern day camera.

Once back in Australia, it was into my darkroom and I processed all the film by hand, 3 sheets at a time, in trays.

This worked out okay, but damage can easily be done with scratches, dust and uneven development.

I made a decision to salt print the ones I liked most and was happy with the results.

In conclusion, was it a good idea to just do pinhole? Yes and no. Yes, it was a challenge, no, as it was extremely difficult.

I suppose the bonus is my pictures do not look like the rest of the pictures taken by hundreds/thousands of people on the day, from the same spot.

That has to be a good thing.

Robert James Elliott