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Living on Water

Steff Gruber | Cambodia

Living on Water

The Tonle Sap Lake near Siem Reap is the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia. It’s one of the richest inland fishing grounds in the world and home to over one million people. The majority of these people live directly on the water in houseboats which create pockets of floating villages throughout this 1,042 sq mile lake in Cambodia.

The population is a mix of ethnic groups all crowd onto the self-built boats and rafts. Floating stores, schools, an ice factory, a Buddhist pagoda and even a Catholic church have been built. The inhabitants make a living from fishing or bartering. In the eyes of the authorities, they are living there illegally.

Today, the fragile niche ecosystems as well as the rural livelihoods ofTonle Sapare in danger. Dams, overfishing, illegal wood harvesting, further resource exploitation, and pollution all impact the stability of the socio-ecological system ofTonle Sap.

Today the population of the floating villages is existentially threatened by their own government, which intends to close down the villages in the foreseeable future and relocate the inhabitants.

Based on my interest in documentaries, I began shooting photo stories in various countries that focused, in particular, on human interest subjects and humanist concerns. I produced many of my photo series over a period of several years, visiting places and people on repeated occasions. One of the places are the floating villages in Cambodia, which led to the photography series “Living on Water” in 2019.

Steff Gruber

Hafnerstrasse 60

8005 Zurich


phone +41442708090


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