The Cost of Living

By: Michelle Vachon   , The Cambodia Daily, February  21, 2015

A sightseeing visit to Boeng Kak lake in mid-2008 by Swiss-Australian photographer Nicolas Axelrod turned into a seven-year project documenting forced evictions in Phnom Penh, as well as the city’s evolving landscape.

Having come to Phnom Penh from Bangkok to cover the national election in July of that year, Mr. Axelrod ended up settling in Cambodia and following members of communities evicted in the late 2000s and early 2010s, including Boeng Kak, Dey Krahorm, Borei Keila and Group 78.

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Residents flee a bulldozer as it moves rubble from homes destroyed during the forced eviction of Dey Krahorm residents in Phnom Penh in January 2009. (Nicolas Axelrod)

 

“I spent a week going every morning at 6:00 to Borei Keila because there was a rumor that they were going to evict the people from the green sheds,” the 32-year-old photographer said.

The sheds housed 50 families, each of which had a member with HIV/AIDS. They were eventually trucked kilometers out of town, making it impossible for them to earn a living as they had done—even precariously—in Phnom Penh.

“This development…it’s a normal transition for any city,” Mr. Axelrod said.

“The issue was the way it was done…. Had they really done a good job [with] the resettlement of these communities, it would have been a massive boost for the city because this would have given opportunities to people who previously didn’t have them.”

Mr. Axelrod has also documented development on eviction sites, Cambodian youth culture and the emergence of the middle class.

About 150 of the thousands of photos he has taken in the country will be featured in his book and e-book “Transitioning Cambodia,” set to be released in late April.