by Richard Evnen
In early 2013, when I arrived in Cambodia as a member of the American Jewish World Service Volunteer Corps, I did not anticipate the lasting impact of my experience. Assigned to a Cambodian NGO in Phnom Penh for three months, I worked alongside my Khmer colleagues in reaching out to rural and urban communities to foster opportunities for neighborhoods and Cambodian youth. Along the way, I met important leaders in Cambodia civil society and assisted with their preparations for regional conferences with other such leaders in Southeast Asia.
I have returned to Cambodia three more times since my first experience there, continuing to help with English language documents and advocacy. Coincidental with this work, I pulled out my camera and took photographs I saw as reflective of Cambodia and its people. Though I am an amateur photographer, my pictures come from a lifelong interest in photography and a passion for images of people and places.
An exhibition of my work will hang in the Gallery at the Jewish Community Center from Nov. 4 – 29. Twelve traditional color prints, all from markets in Phnom Penh, will be displayed. The photographs convey pride and dignity found in markets, which are intersections of culture, food and commerce.
A reception for the exhibition is Wednesday, Nov. 11 beginning at 6 p.m. Wine and appetizers with an Asian theme will be served.
At 7:30 p.m., a special guest, independent filmmaker Kalyanee Mam, will screen her 2013 film, A River Changes Course, in the JCC Auditorium. Afterwards, Kalyanee will speak with the audience. Her film earned a Grand Jury Award at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Kalyanee has just returned from Cambodia, where she is filming her next feature documentary about the sacred connections between indigenous people and their environment. The screening and photo exhibition are free and open to all.
Kalyanee, born in Cambodia during the genocide perpetrated by the murderous Khmer Rouge, is a graduate of Yale and UCLA Law School. She turned to documentary filmmaking as a way to share important stories and their spiritual attachments. Her work touches the heart and is visually stunning. A River Changes Course shares the stories of three Cambodian families with intimate looks into their lives and the environs in which they dwell and work. The film is critically noted for its resonance and beauty.
We hope our collaboration in Omaha will reward attendees with evocative information about Cambodia. Our work is not offered as overt advocacy but rather as a means to be informed in a more personal way about life halfway around the world. In coming together for this special evening, we have forged a friendship that is itself an example of how people with different life experiences can find meaningful common ground in pursuit of art and the repair of the world.
There are people, places and activities in every market — some conspicuous, some nuanced and some hidden in dark corners — that offer opportunities for understanding. My photographs are meant to share such moments. They suggest glimpses into the beauty and depth of Cambodia and its people.
Richard Evnen knows about food in Cambodia and elsewhere. Until five years ago he owned a regional foodservice distributor. Since selling his business, Richard’s time has shifted more toward volunteer pursuits. He is a former Board Chair of the Plains Region ADL Board, is President of the Jewish cemetery in Lincoln, serves as a CASA volunteer and is the Board Chair of Bryan Medical Center in Lincoln. His creative work, he admits, is not a new venture for him but is of increasing personal importance.