Illustrious Majesty in Southeast Asia
Travelling through Southeast Asia with a film camera, photographer Jessica Sample captures the region's ancient temples, spiritual practices and arresting atmosphere
09 November, 2022
Visiting places which date back to the 9th century BCE makes you all too aware that your existence is a bit of a blip. In Angkor Wat, Cambodia, architecture and nature meld as tree roots embrace the ancient stone, weaving through the sprawling temple complex. Time has drawn them closer together, and I feel infinitely small.
In their grandeur, these ancient relics are shrouded by time. Laos' and Cambodia's reverence to nature, history and life is arresting. Plaintive scenes are juxtaposed by the kindness of the monks at Mount Phousi in Luang Prabang, where practising their English in broken rhythms, I learn about a life given over to Buddhism at a young age. Renouncing money and promoting humility, the monks here continue the 14th-century ritual of morning alms. In-keeping with tradition, they walk through the town at sunrise, silently begging for food with proffered bowls - cooked rice is presented by neighbours eager to feed these devoted men.
Sanctimonious creatures meet us at the Shangri Lao elephant orphanage in Laos. Gentle giants - who once survived under brutal lives in the logging industry - are given new lives here. Venturing deep into the Kulen jungle in Cambodia - travelling on the backs of motorcycles - we are met by their majesty again. Here among rugged jungle, their presence is immortalised in life-size statues carved from boulders. It is in this moment that my film camera debunks, flaring the film, as though these ancient statues were telling me not to reveal their existence to outsiders.
This article was first published in 2018. It was updated 9 November 2022.