If his start in this field was any indication, Natick, Massachusetts-based Bruce T. Martin’s photographic work was always going to feature the intersection of history and architecture. A curious, worldly photographer, the Massachusetts resident began his career by searching for historic buildings local to his area. It was only a matter of time before he’d start traveling the world to find more historic places.
My professional photography began as a Historic Preservation Photographer in Chautauqua County in Western NY. My efforts there revolved around finding that community’s historic buildings and then documenting their condition for National Register of Historic Places consideration.
Soon after he left that position, Bruce moved to Massachusetts to start working as an architectural photographer. Eventually, he found himself researching the Maya. Years after first learning about the them in-depth, Bruce also “became aware of the Khmer of Cambodia.” Seeing obvious parallels between the two peoples, Bruce wanted to learn more about the latter.
In 1987, I began working on a project on the Maya of Central America, combining historical documents, academic research, and current events in conjunction with my photography and recordings from the field. In the nineties, while working on my still ongoing Maya project, I became aware of the Khmer of Cambodia. Like the Maya, they were successful under the difficult conditions of a rainforest environment. At that time, I added them to my list of places I would like to learn more about.
Though Bruce did a little research on the Khmer before embarking on a trip to Cambodia for a personal project called “Walking in the Shadow of Time,” he was too busy with his career to dive into the material headfirst. Instead of hindering his ability to capture the ancient ruins, this allowed Bruce to create imagery based on a “personal response” to the edifices.
Before leaving, I decided not to look at very many Cambodian visuals with the hope that I could better form my own personal response to these extraordinary structures, locations, and iconography.
Across two weeks, Bruce put together a stunning collection of shots featuring some truly awe-inspiring structures. After adhering to a few clothing and equipment restrictions — he couldn’t use a tripod at a number of sites — Bruce got to work and came away with a tidy one-word description to sum up his experiences.
Seeing these structures, the landscape they sit in, and the iconography they contain made a direct connection to my creative core. How light reveals the intersection of what was and what is inspires and challenges me.
These sites are of inestimable value for architects and architectural photographers because of their beauty and durability. The Khmer Empire was ahead of its time with regards to engineering and other disciplines, and the fact that their work still remains after centuries is a testament to their brilliance.
I was drawn to the Khmer Classic Civilization, their region, and the physical remains for a number of reasons. Their lost world, much like the Maya, is from a forgotten time, yet still radiates a powerful spirit. The beautiful sense of mystery that energizes these sites challenges our present-day worldview. These sacred locations give us a better understanding of how architecture defines space, one culture’s vision of reality, and humankind’s place in this world. It is my goal to incorporate these notions into my photographs.
Being built from stone gives them great durability. The Khmer builders used a combination of brick, stucco, laterite, and sandstone to create these massive complexes, which combined a central sanctuary, towers, altars, passageways, entryway buildings, and pools surrounded by moats and reservoirs. The sandstone walls were carved with intricate sculptures of dancers and gods along with free-flowing detailed bas-reliefs showing vegetation, daily life, history and mythology.
The more Bruce photographed, the more he learned about the people who created what he was experiencing. And the more he learned about the Khmer, the more he appreciated their holistic philosophies.
The Khmer were architects, engineers, craftsmen, and artists who created spectacular structures that were in harmony with their vision of life and landscape. Through their architecture, the Khmer Empire presented their beliefs, history and cosmology leaving us with a singular interpretation of the world we live in.
What remains are the beautiful ruins depicted here that have been weathered by time and nature yet still reveal a sophisticated and complicated civilization consumed with finding their place in the universe.
Now, traveling to Cambodia and learning about its past means you’re going to read about the brutal former prime minister Pol Pot. So, while the whole trip wasn’t a happy experience, per se, it still gave Bruce the chance to do what he loves while working with his son, who assisted. Oh, and it allowed him to plan for more trips to Southeast Asia. Let’s just hope he comes back with more images like the ones he produced during his time in Cambodia!
Cambodia is a very interesting country with incredible people, ruins, and history. It was also rewarding to travel and spend time with my son, who helped me on this trip. We’ve enjoyed our visit but we’re deeply troubled by the brutal genocide of the Pol Pot’s Khmer Rouge regime of the 70’s and the extreme poverty of today. We also spent a couple of days in Thailand. I photographed a number of Buddhist Temples and Shrines in both countries, which I plan to organize into an essay at some future point.
See more of Bruce’s work on his website.
Read more about Bruce on our Published blog.
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