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Ruom Collective

Saturday July 20th, 2013

by Maria Luci

“Ruom” is Khmer for all together, or going together. With this meaning in mind, Two Cambodia-based Wonderful Machine photographers, Nicolas Axelrod and Thomas Cristofoletti, started Ruom Collective. Rather than fight for jobs and undercut each other, Nicolas and Thomas decided to band together to collaborate on shoots. They now share information, contacts and back each other up on assignments. Most importantly, they work together to complete long term photo projects, allowing for “multiple visions and added depth.”

K. K. (13) hugs his litle sister after a day working in the sugar cane plantations.  Chhoyk village, Srei Ambel district, Koh Kong, Cambodia. 15 Jan. 2013 © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

K. K. hugs his little sister after a day working in the sugar cane plantations. © Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom

For their first collaborative project, “Blood Sugar,” Nicolas and Thomas documented sugar cane workers and fields throughout Cambodia. The country is experiencing a so called “Sugar Rush”—due to their tax exempt status from EU. The result is that, “more than 12,000 people have been forced off their land to make way for [sugar] development. Crops have been razed. Animals have been shot. Homes have been burned to the ground. Thousands of people have been left destitute. Some have been thrown in jail for daring to protest. Given no option but to accept inadequate compensations, villagers gave up their homes and farmlands.” Nicolas and Thomas spent over three months covering the affects that sugar has had on the Cambodian people. They also brought along writer Clothilde Le Coz to “follow the sugar trail from Cambodia to Europe.”

B. S. (11) carries a bunch of sugar cane. To help his family (evicted from their land in 2006 to make way for the sugar plantation), S. works normally 2 days a week trying to not lose too many days of school. Sugar plantation of Srei Ambel, Koh Kong - Cambodia. © Thomas Cristofoletti / Ruom

B. S. carries sugar cane to help his family who were evicted from their land to make way for the plantation. © Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom

Ruom’s second project was a self-financed series in Myanmar documenting the 969 anti-Muslim movement. These images have since been licensed to three publications, “mainly anonymously to avoid any backlash from the movement (specifically for the project’s fixer) and from the government regarding further access to the country.”

Monk Wirathu supervises an exam at Masoeyein Monastery in Mandalay. Since publicly promoting the 969 movement on social networks, Wirathu has been labeled as the Buddhist Bin Laden. © Nicolas Axelrod/Ruom

Monk Wirathu supervises an exam. Wirathu has been labeled as the Buddhist Bin Laden. © Nicolas Axelrod/Ruom

Mr. Tin Maung Myin starts cleaning what remains of his burnt home in Meiktila (200 km south of Mandalay). This was the first time he was allowed to return to his house three months after the clashes that claimed at least forty-four lives (mostly Muslims). © Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom

Mr. Tin Maung Myin starts cleaning what remains of his burnt home in Meiktila. © Thomas Cristofoletti/Ruom

Nicolas said their goal is to continue to collaborate and explore meaningful projects like these, “either together or with other professionals, especially journalists and researchers.”

U Kamasara, head monk of Thita Sa Waita Gu Monastery, near Mandalay, regularly preaches about the 969 movement. 09 June 2013 © Nicolas Axelrod / Ruom

U Kamasara, head monk of Thita Sa Waita Gu Monastery, regularly preaches about the 969 movement. © Nicolas Axelrod/Ruom

Learn more about these projects and more at ruom.net.

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