Khmer Battleground, by Aizzat Nordin

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Aizzat Nordin was a Malaysian recipient of the Angkor Photo Travel Grants. Khmer Battleground was made during the 2016 Angkor Photo Workshop in Siem Reap, Cambodia.

Pradal Serey or Kun Khmer is a form of ancient martial arts practiced by the Kingdom of Angkor army since the 9th century to wage war against their main enemy, the Vietnam-based kingdom of Champa, and later Siam, resulting in the domination of what is now known as Cambodia, Thailand, Vietnam, and Laos. In an effort to erase this art, many Kun Khmer lok kru (Masters) were targeted by the vicious Khmer Rouge Regime and executed in the 70’s, leaving Cambodian struggling with poverty and socioeconomic growth after the regime era. Today, Kun Khmer fighters fight hard with pride and dignity in the arena or at the pagoda in the rural areas for extra money, hoping that it’s enough to feed their loved ones.


Interview with Aizzat Nordin 
1. How did you prepare for the workshop?

As I didn’t know what to expect from the workshop I was quite nervous about it. But it was a good thing since it kept me alert and made me prepare for the workshop. I did some research about Cambodia history and on certain topics that I planned to do during the workshop. I also brought along my business cards as I know it won’t just be a workshop, but also a good place to meet inspiring people.

2. What is your photo series about ?

My photo series title is Khmer Battleground. It’s about how Cambodians use boxing as a tool to earn extra income and one of the ways to get out from poverty. I am trying to explore the reason they box and how they apply boxing principles in their daily life.

3. Why did you decide to shoot it ?

I saw that Khmer Boxing has a lot of angles to it – history, religion, culture, and life itself. The Khmer Rouge used to target the Pradal Serey masters in an effort to erase this art from Cambodian history.

4. What challenges did you encounter while working on a photo series and how did you overcome them ?

The 1st thing on my mind about challenge is that the boxing story is cliché, everyone has done it before, and the questions why should I do it is really hard for me to answer at first. Thinking it back, we have tons of boxing movies, from the 50’s and we still have new boxing movies now, why people still make it? From there I picked up that boxing is just principle, the main point is the life stories it in. The question of “why should I do it” then changed to “why shouldn’t I?”

Another challenge for me is the language barrier. It’s hard for me at first because most of the fighters and the masters didn’t speak English well, and to get close to them I need to find a common ground where we understand each other, to let them see me not only as a photographer, but as a fighters as well. I used the punching bag to break that language barrier and we then start laughing. From gym, I know a person who then showed me another gym and so on. 

5. What did you learn from the workshop ?

The process of the workshop itself is a great lesson for me. What I learnt the most is I have to answer the questions first apart from the technical comments from my mentors. The “why shoot this topic, what interest me, how am I going to deliver it visually, what do you feel?” kind of questions. The questions make sure that I don’t stray from the main story and makes the purpose of shooting, the direction becomes clear once I am able answered them first. The workshop makes me grow not just as a photographer but as a person who understand others as well.

6. How do you plan to implement what you learned from the workshop ?

Think and shoot more. “Pressing the shutter button is an expression of a thought process”. I will keep on shooting and apply all the constructive critics that I received from both of my mentors Ian Teh and Kosuke Okahara, and also from my fellow friends and the workshop participants. They also teach me to do self-critique so I can tell better stories in future. 

7. What are some memorable moments that you experienced during the workshop ?

Meeting with awesome and inspiring people from the workshops of course. We had a good time exchanging ideas, life stories, and inspiration. Even from the start, they were very supportive. The process of doing the project itself is challenging but fun as I learnt a lot especially when I was accepted to spent a night at one of the fighter house. It is a tiny, confined space but they are very warm and welcoming people. I never felt much at home than this moment.

Photographs & Text: Aizzat Nordin, Malaysia. Website:

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