Photo Essay


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Norwegian photographer Christian Houge captures the beauty, mystery, and grandeur of Angkor Wat, a temple inside one of the most important archeological sites of Southeast Asia in the heart of Cambodia. The city of Angkor was built in the year 200 during the Funan kingdom and covers at least 385 square miles. From the early 15th century, Angkor became completely abandoned, and the jungle freely grew. The French naturalist Henri Mouhot rediscovered it in 1874, and the reconstruction and preservation of the temples began.

All of Houge's projects have a common exploration - the complex relation between nature and culture. These images of Angkor Wat capture this complexity as well as the contrast between nature and architecture, man and the unknown. Houge has conveyed the grandeur and energy that these impressive temples are made of.

The temple of Angkor Wat is highly complex, mimicking the cosmos. "We are born part of something much larger than ourselves," reflects Houge. Before the temples, the first carvings were made in riverbeds and waterfalls north of Angkor in the thickest jungle. Nature was the inspiration. The jungle was cleared to create these huge temples and culture. After man's urge to build, nature has slowly taken its place. Houge asks, "Can we be symbiotic with nature? Is nature with us or against us?"

Man has always searched outside of himself to find answers, to search for something larger than himself. Angkor is a very good example of that, says Houge. "These images are an invitation - one of awe and wonderment."

In 1934, H.W. Ponder wrote of Angkor in the book Cambodian Glory: The Mystery of the Deserted Khmer Cities and Their Vanished Splendour:

"Everywhere around you, you see Nature in its dual role of destroyer and consoler; strangling on the one hand, and healing on the other; no sooner splitting the carved stones asunder than she dresses their wounds with cool, velvety mosses and binds them with her most delicate tendrils; a conflict of moods so contradictory and feminine as to prove once more, if proof were needed, how well "Dame" Nature merits her feminine title! So the temple is held in a stranglehold of trees. Stone and wood clasp each other in grim hostility, yet all is silent without any visible movements indicating their struggle as if they were wrestlers suddenly petrified, struck motionless in the middle of a fight. The rounds in this battle were not measured in minutes, but in centuries."

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