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Photographs of Laos

by: Interview with Philippe Coste

February 2006

published online August 2006. Interview conducted by Tomasz Neugebauer. Philippe Coste has a gallery at

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Monk reading buddist prayer, Muang Ngeun, Sayabouly province, 2005.
"We went to Muang Ngeun with a friend to visit the old Thai Lu temples. I was looking at the river from this temple when I saw a piece of wood nailed on the tree, probably a perched bench. Two novices were following me during my visit. I asked them to sit on that bench and take the pose for me. One of them went to the temple to take the manuscript. Then they climbed on the tree and started to read. That was probably the purpose of this bench."

Do you use exclusively film photography or have you experimented with digital?

No, I use digital as well, of course. I think the technology is great, especially for colour pictures. But at the time being, I still have more pleasure using a film camera than a digital camera. This comes from the camera itself, but I'm sure we will soon be able to find pleasant digital cameras. However, as long as the photographic industry will produce film, I'll continue using both.

Paddy field Luang Prabang province 2001
"In June, at the beginning of the rainy season, people in Laos start to prepare their paddy fields. On this picture, we can see a field being planted with the young rice sprouts."

You seem to have an interest in documentary realism and the depiction of farm and field work. Do you see harmony in the interaction between human beings and nature?

Absolutely! I seem to have developed, over the years, an interest in certain types of human activities in nature that appear to have reached a kind of balance with it. I believe it is important to document activities that do not endanger the environment.

Harvesting, Ban Phanom, Luang Prabang 1999
"Harvesting takes place at the end of October, beginning of November. Most of the people still harvest by hand."

Could you describe some differences that you have encountered between the cultures of France and Laos?

Apart from the fact that you can find French "baguette" all over the country, I'd say that everything is completely different. The culture in Laos can be quite confusing. But as long as you accept not to try to compare it with your own cultural background, it can offer you many good opportunities to learn about life!

Nam Khane River, Xieng Ngeun, 2000

Yes, cultural comparisons can lead to confusion and it can be difficult to transcend our cultural expectations and learn. Could you describe one such lesson that Lao culture has taught you about life? Some of your images reveal Buddhist monks and artifacts, have you ever thought of photography as a meditation?

For sure, living in Laos helped me to realize how pretentious and arrogant I could be. Now, I'm very careful with that, and try to be more respectful of other people. I've never been fascinated by Buddhism as mystical experience. What I can see of it in Laos has a dimension more social than spiritual. To be honest, I don't know what meditation is!

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