Phnom Penh Street at Night – Chris Coles

While Phnom Penh’s come a million miles since the Khmer Rouge and Year Zero, it’s still a city with an edge, especially at night. Entire buildings and city blocks are often dark and unlit, sidewalks and streets in disrepair, piles of garbage are strewn in every direction. A small group of “Big Men” have their Mercedes, Toyota Land Cruisers and Lexus SUV, but most of the people who inhabit Phnom Penh grind away on almost nothing, living day to day with no real savings, no prospects, a daily darwinistic struggle for low-level survival with just a faint glimmer of hope far, far away, on a distant neon horizon.

In the midst of the ongoing debate about Cambodia’s present government, power structure, levels of injustice and impunity, etc., it’s nevertheless clear that there is an immense transformation taking place at this moment in Cambodia. Huge and rapid capital accumulation by a small elite, waves of internal immigration by young people from the rural/farming areas into Phnom Penh, a barely controlled influx of foreigners and investment from China, Russia, Korea, Europe, Australia, South Asia, North America and even Africa, a multitude of small business being started, so many NGO’s that they seem to be colliding with each other in their competition to “do good”, altogether a redefining of what modern Cambodia is and what it is becoming.

“Noir Nights in Phnom Penh” is a view of the present moment filtered through my perceptions and point of view as an artist rather than an academic or objective analysis. But perhaps the imagination, intuition and instinct can sometimes provide illumination in a way that eludes a more rational and scientific approach………

Lexus SUV in Phnom Penh Night – Chris Coles

It probably cost 100,000 plus USD, more than a lifetime income for most Cambodians, much less what they might save………it’s shiny, invulnerable, air-conditioned to the max and takes one of Cambodia’s Big Men wherever he wants to go………

Bargirl in the Phnom Penh Night – Chris Coles

Usually from one of Cambodia’s rural provinces, usually with at least one son or daughter, unlikely to have gone to school more than 6 years, the ex-husband or boyfriend AWOL, her mother and father subsistence farmers scratching out a few hundred dollars a year…….it all comes down to her, sitting alone in the Phnom Penh Expat bar, hoping to somehow find a way out………

Nite Cafe Phnom Penh – Chris Coles

Scattered around the Phnom Penh night, in between the pools of darkness, there are more and more Nite Cafe’s……liter bottles of Angkor beer, Khmer pop music, spicy food, snacks, warm and lively conversation, a re-knitting of the social fabric after so many years of destruction…………

Phnom Penh Hi-Rise – Chris Coles

Rising high above the rest of Phnom Penh, massive cement condos to be filled with large-screen plasma tv’s and newly rich Khmer, business guys from China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, NGO chiefs from North America, Europe and Australia…..

Phnom Penh Night Market – Chris Coles

It’s late but the night market’s still open, at least some of it….piles of Cambodia fruits…a few rats scuttling through the trash……..

(to view more of Chris Coles “Noir Nights in Phnom Penh” photo essay, click here…………)