While on a road trip through Cambodia this March, queer New York-based photographer Oscar Ouk traveled with samples from Gypsy Sport’s spring ’17 collection to dress local Khmer people in the colorful, inclusive brand—one known for its diverse runway presentations.
A Cambodian image-maker himself, Ouk sought to explore the country he’d always imagined as the “horrific war-zone” his parents often depicted. In 1979, Ouk says his parents met through a group of refugees who were escaping Cambodia from a communist party, called the Khmer Rouge. Together, the two found safety in Vietnam before relocating to the United States and eventually giving birth to Ouk in Connecticut.
Admittedly unsure of what to expect of his travels, Ouk says he “was excited to meet my relatives and capture their stories,” while traveling with his dad, camera and favorite Gypsy Sport pieces. “We started in the Capital, Phnom Penh, where my parents grew up,” he says. There, Ouk shot his Uncle, who’s a military general, Aunt and their son. While the Aunt wore Gypsy Sport “with such poise and grace,” Ouk says his cousin “huffed and puffed the whole time.”
From there, Ouk continued on his journey, traveling through Sihanoukville—a coastal city where villagers, especially the children were eager and curious to be involved in the photo project. “It was a humbling experience,” Ouk says, remembering how present his young subjects were, collaborating with him like team players. While on the coast, Ouk also shot a local vendor with help from his dad, who acted as a translator throughout the entire process.
The photographer also shot in his Grandmother’s tiny village, called Oudong, which has no running water, plumbing, postal services, Internet or garbage disposal. “She sleeps in a small wooden house with caretakers and their sons,” Ouk says of his Grandmother. While visiting her home, Ouk also shot his Great Aunt, as well as a shy boy who followed him around for days. “He was very into the clothes, but too shy to admit it,” Ouk says. “He finally got the courage to step in front of the lens” and modeled Gypsy Sport’s feather crown, designed in collaboration with queer jewelry-maker Chris Habana.
“I chose Gypsy Sport for this project because it is the only American brand that could authentically connect to my Khmer culture,” Ouk said. “Gypsy Sport champions diversity by casting people that are unique and often overlooked. Cambodia is a country that is rarely acknowledged, so I wanted [to] use this opportunity to reveal and celebrate the undiscovered beauty of the Khmer people.”
Photography: Oscar Ouk