Visions of Angkor by...Solange Brand
by Solange Brand
Never-seen-before photographs of Angkor temples and Siem Reap River dating back to 1968.
Author: Solange Brand
Source: Courtesy of the photographer; ©Solange Brand 1968
December 1968. The magic of Angkor is working full throttle on a 22-year old woman tirelessly roaming the Khmer temples with her Pentax camera. Yet she is not your average tourist or photographer: Solange Brand (1946, Paris) is just off three stunning years in China, where she candidly captured in color photographs that otherwise black-and-white moment of history, the Cultural Revolution.
After her experience on “the hidden face of Earth” – China was then mostly terra incognita for Westerners --, witnessing major political and social convulsions, the young woman made a childhood dream come true: Angkor, the ancient city she had seen depicted in Spirou comic magazine, would be her first stop on her meandering journey back home. And the impression on her then was as powerful as her photographic testimony is today.
In a letter to her relatives sent on letterhead from L’Auberge des Temples, the hotel a few steps from the Angkor Wat causeway, Solange wrote: “I cannot describe such marvels, these perfect achievements in architecture, sculpture, bas-relief, these temples, some of which hugged by lianas, caught under tree roots, this jungle vibrant with bird calls, an astounding smell rising from it, these coconut and banana trees, these monks, these women in sarongs, naked children, buffaloes, fishermen, floating villages, this life in a pure state, untouched by progress, verdant, true…This country radiates a smiling calmness, an extraordinary atmosphere, and always these temples in ruins, these powerful stones, vestiges of an admirable past. I’m taking lots of photos of course, but I wonder if they will really convey what I feel, what I see.”
Out of 92 digitized slides (Agfacolor), we have selected and printed 16 photographs (in bold in the list below) reflecting Solange’s vision of Cambodia, its temples and its people. Temples shown are Angkor Wat, Bayon, Bakong, Banteay Kdei, Banteay Srei, Pre Rup, Roluos Group, Neak Pean, Ta Prohm, Thommanon, Preah Khan, with floating villages south of Siem Reap. In addition to their artistic value, they bring important documentation to researchers willing to get a clearer picture of Angkor site just before the civil war.
We have added informative captions kindly provided by Olivier Cunin, Doctor in Architecture, Technical International Consultant to Apsara Authority. Here is the complete list with captions:
SB1: Angkor Wat - 4th enclosure -- Western half-section -- General view from eastern moat on eastern gateway and Bakan.
SB2: Angkor Thom - South Gate causeway - Asuras 53 and 54.
SB3: Angkor Thom - South Gate causeway - Devas 15 to 54.
SB4: Angkor Thom - Southern Causeway - Asuras 29, 30 & 31.
SB5: Angkor Thom - South Gate, southern face.
SB5-1 & SB5-2 : Angkor Thom - Leper King Terrace (details).
SB5-3: Angkor Thom - Thommanon - 1st enclosure - Tower-Sancturary - Southern Avant-corps - Western Window - Southern Devata.
SB6: Angkor Wat - 1st enclosure - Bakan - Central tower, 1st and 2d cornices, southwest salient angle with Devata.
SB7: Angkor Wat - 1st enclosure - Bakan - Northwest Angle Tower (seen from southwest).
SB8: Angkor Wat - 1st enclosure - Bakan - Southwest Angle Tower (seen from northwest).
SB9: Angkor Wat - 2d enclosure - North Gallery (?) - Buddha under Naga (head close-up).
SB10: Angkor Wat - 2d enclosure - North Gallery (?) - Buddha under Naga.
SB11: Angkor Wat - 2d enclosure - Northwest Quadrant - South gate of the northern "library".
SB12: Angkor Wat - 3d enclosure - Northern aisle of West Gallery -- Battle of Lanka bas-relief.
SB13: Angkor Wat - 4th enclosure - Western half-section - West Access Pavilion - South window of Axial Tower avant-corps (seen from the south).
SB14: Angkor Wat - 1st enclosure - Bakan - Central Tower, south pediment.
SB15: Angkor Wat - Devata.
SB16: Angkor Wat - Two Devatas.
SB17: Bakong - 1st enclosure - Eastern half-section - Northeast tower - Accent piece at bottom of ground level.
SB18: Bakong - 1st enclosure - Eastern half-section - Northeast tower with Umagangapatisvara Triad (seen from southeast). [Another view on this group in 1957 here].
SB19: Bakong - 1st enclosure - Western Axial Pavilion - South Wing - Statue of Vishnu (head missing).
SB20: Banteay Kdei - 1st enclosure - Northern Axial Tower (seen from southwest).
SB21: Banteay Kdei - 1st enclosure - Western Axial Tower (seen from southwest).
SB22: Banteay Kdei - 3d enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion - Group of statues at center of pavilion.
SB23: Banteay Kdei - 3d enclosure - Western Access Pavilion -- South wing (seen from southeast).
SB24: Banteay Kdei - 3d enclosure - Western Access Pavilion - South Wing close-up (seen from southeast).
SB25: Banteay Kdei - 3d enclosure - Western Access Pavilion (seen from south).
SB26: Banteay Kdei - 4d enclosure - Western Access Pavilion, lower part (seen from southeast).
SB27: Banteay Kdei - 4d enclosure - Western Access Pavilion, higher part (seen from southeast).
SB28: Banteay Srei - 1st enclosure- Central Tower-Sanctuary and Mandapa (seen from northeast).
SB29: Banteay Srei - 1st enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion - Western face.
SB30: Banteay Srei - 1st enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion (seen from western face), Library and Southern Tower-Sanctuary.
SB31: Banteay Srei - 1st enclosure - Central Tower, southeast angle - Angle Sud-Est - Niches with Dvarapala (Nandikeshvara).
SB32 & SB33: Banteay Srei - 1st enclosure - Central Tower-Sanctuary and Mandapa (seen from southeast).
SB34: Banteay Srei - 1st enclosure - View between Northern Libray and Eastern Pavilion I on Central Tower and Mandapa.
SB35: Banteay Srei - 2d enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion - Eastern Portail - Inner Pediment (Gaja Lakshmi).
SB36: Banteay Srei - 3d enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion - North Wing - View on western face.
SB37: Bayon - 1st level - South Gallery, Western Wing (60)- Bas-relief.
SB38: Bayon - 1st level -- South Axial Access Pavilion (59) - Alcove with three Apsaras on northeast central pillar (south face).
SB39: Bayon - 1st level - View on Southwestern Angle Access Pavilion (61) from South Gallery west wing (60).
SB40: Bayon - 2d level - South Face - Southwestern View on Tower 25 from inner gallery.
SB41: Bayon - 3d level - South Half-Section - View on Tower 18 Western Face.
SB42: Bayon - 3d level - Northeastern Quadrant - Tower 49 - Angle Garuda.
SB43: Bayon - 3d level - Central Massif, South half-section - Apron Wall with Alcove for Apsara, western window to hall 3-4.
SB44: Bayon - 3d level - Central Massif, South half-section - Apron Wall with Alcove for Apsara, western window to hall 3-4.
SB45: Bayon - 3d level - Northeastern Quadrant - View on southern faces of Towers 34, 51 and 35.
SB46: Bayon - 3d level - Northeastern Quadrant - Southwest View on Towers 48 and 49 (on the left, Tower 21 western avant-corps).
SB47: Bayon - 3d level - Southwestern Quadrant - Southeast view on Towers 41 and 42.
SB48: Bayon - 3d level - View on a Devata on western face of Tower 15 avant-corps from northern avant-corps of building 14.
SB49: Bayon - Central Massif, South half-section- Devata west of Tower 3 entrance.
SB50: Bayon - General View from southeast.
SB51: Bayon - View on Central Massif from South Axial Access Pavilion base, external gallery.
SB52: Neak Poan - Central Islet and Bahala statue (seen from southeast).
SB53: Phnom Bakheng - Eastern Face of the Temple-Mountain - Axial Stairway.
SB54: Phnom Bakheng - Eastern Face of the Temple-Mountain - Smaller temples north of axial stairway.
SB55: Phnom Bakheng - Eastern Face of the Temple-Mountain - View from northeastern angle.
SB56 & SB57: Phnom Bakheng - Western Face (?) of the Temple-Mountain - Echiffre Lions on Axial Stairway.
SB58: Pre Rup - 1st enclosure, 3d terrace - Echiffre Lions on Central Tower foundations.
SB59: Pre Rup - 1st enclosure, 3d terrace - Central Tower (seen from southeast).
SB60: Pre Rup - 1st enclosure, 3d terrace - Northeastern Angle Tower (seen from south).
SB61: Pre Rup - 1st enclosure, 3d terrace - Southwestern Angle Tower (seen from east).
SB62: Pre Rup - 2d enclosure, western half-section - View from southeast to Western Access Pavilion, tied pyramid and its towers-sanctuaries.
SB63: Pre Rup - 2d enclosure - General View in the South Face axis.
SB64: Preah Khan - 3d enclosure - South building leaning against western side of Dancers Hall.
SB65: Preah Khan - 3d enclosure - Building on columns (seen from south).
SB66: Preah Khan - 3d enclosure - Western Axial Pavilion (seen from west).
SB67: Preah Khan - 3d enclosure - Eastern Pavilion - South Gallery seen from eastern terrace.
SB68: Preah Khan - 3d enclosure - Dancers Hall - Cross-shaped Gallery - North inner door entablature - Apsara Frieze.
SB69: Preah Khan - 3d enclosure - Dancers Hall - Western Gallery - North inner door entablature - Apsara Frieze.
SB70: Preah Khan - 4th enclosure - Northeastern Quadrant - House of Fire (seen from southwest).
SB71: Preah Khan - 4th Enclosure Western Causeway - Devas 1, 2 & 3.
SB72: Ta Prohm - 3d enclosure - Northern Complex - Eastern Access Pavilion (seen from southeast).
SB73: Ta Prohm - 3d enclosure - Northern Complex - Western Access Pavilion (seen from southeast).
SB74 & SB75: Ta Prohm - 4th enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion - Portail seen from south.
SB76 & SB77: Ta Prohm - 4th enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion (seen from northwest).
SB78: Ta Prohm - 4th enclosure - Eastern Access Pavilion (seen from southeast).
SB79: Roluos Group - Prasat Lolei (seen from southwest).
Life on Siem Reap River, 1968
SBRIV01 to SBRIV11: Floating villages, norias, fishing nets, a few kilometers south of Siem Reap City.
Photographs are shown here in low-resolution. They can be ordered as high-resolution files or as prints. Contacts us.
About the Photographer
Solange Brand (18 March 1946, Paris, France) is an independent photographer who captured the start of the Chinese Cultural Revolution on rare color photographs which found a renewed audience in China and abroad from 2002, when a slideshow of her work was exhibitied at Pingyao Festival.
In December 1968, at 22 years of age, she made a childhood dream come true by visiting Angkor, gathering an impressive collection of Agfacolor slides shot at various Khmer temples -- digitized in 2023 with the support of Angkor Database --, an artistic and documentary prowess since she stayed less than a week on site. "I was practically alone in the temples then", she recalled for us; "after China's turmoil, it felt just like paradise, the people, the trees, water and stones."
Joining the French newspaper Le Monde right after her return from Asia in Asia, then the monthly magazine Le Monde Diplomatique in 1980, she became its Art Director since her retirement in 2004. In 2005, Solange Brand published Pékin 1966, petites histoires de la Revolution culturelle (Kate Fletcher and Editions de l'Oeil Electrique, Paris), followed by Japanese (Pékin 1966, with additionnal text by Kazuyoshi Shimozawa and Masaaki Tsuchiya, Benseï Publishing, Tokyo, 2012 (bensey.co.jp)) and Chinese (中国记忆，1966：一位法国摄影师镜头下的彩色中国, China Memory 1966, Shanxi People’s Publishing House, Beijing, 2015) editions. The book is reviewed on Baidu Online Encyclopedia (in Chinese).
Solange was only 19 when she volunteered to join the just recently opened French Embassy to the Republic of China as a secretary. "It was my initial experience at making photography", she recalled in an interview with Photography of China: "My father gave me his old camera when I left. For a couple of months I experimented it, and as soon as I gathered enough savings, I purchased a Pentax in Hong Kong... then came the discovery of the magic of photography. This probably explains - together with my young age - why my photos look "candid". I was completely self-taught and learnt things outside the field. I never received any artistic training but certainly had a rather innate sense of composition. I took the majority of the photographs during the first years. Many dated back to 1966 because this year saw the launching of the revolutionary movement, when public parades mobilized hundred of thousands young Red Guards down the streets. In 1967, the situation turned chaotic, more violent and there were less if none public parade. [...] I remember how I felt the need to capture the events I was witnessing - with no other idea that to keep track of them for myself. No intention, as well, of telling a story or proving anything. I was unaware that this mass movement would become a major episode in the history of China."