Photographer Anne Kresl (left) and her daughter Alexandra Keller, an Idyllwild Arts Academy student, hold a postcard photo and a framed photo of a monk in bright orange robes at the opening of their fundraiser and exhibition at Café Aroma. Photo by Jenna Hunt

The photographic image of the man standing in bright orange robes with a shoulder tattoo, sandals and shaved head holding a cigarette is not your average monk.

This photo is among many photographs taken by photographer Anne Kresl and her daughter Alexandra Keller of colorful monks in orange hues, children in school uniforms, a pink-swaddled baby cradled lovingly, animals and breathe-taking landscapes of sunsets set against timeless temples displayed at Café Aroma this past Sunday.

Cambodian monks in traditional garb, the photograph described in the accompanying story. Photo by Careena Chase

“We wanted to become involved because we loved the country of Cambodia so much,” said Keller, who is a junior at Idyllwild Arts Academy. “We stopped for a few days and fell in love.”

The dozens of images captured by the mother and daughter team were celebrated during the opening reception for the April and May fundraiser and exhibition. All of the money collected for the photos (ranging in price from $50 to $175) and donations will go directly to the Cambodian Children’s Fund, Kresl said.

The Harkness family of Idyllwild purchased a photo of an elephant for their daughter Heather, who is a sophomore at Idyllwild Arts Academy.

“My daughter fell in love with it and wanted it,” her mother Sharon said. “The color is gorgeous.”

Art Connor, of Idyllwild said he adored one of Kresl’s nature photos. “The green with the rainbow is synchronicitous,” Connor said. “I think I’ll be coming back for that one.”

Young Zora Schoner, 13, who is home-schooled in Idyllwild, said she was taken by the photo of the baby in the woman’s arms.

“The children have really broad expressions. I find them beautiful. I really love the one of the baby,” Schoner said.

The CCF is a nonprofit organization that provides education, nourishment and healthcare to children from Cambodia’s poorest communities.

“They are not orphans,” Kresl said. “They are the poorest of the poor families.”

This project started six years ago, when Kresl and her daughter Keller took a trip a world away visiting China and stopping for few days in Cambodia. The gorgeous landscapes, smiling people and rich ancient history with temples and the dramatic needs of the poor families fascinated professional photographer Kresl and her daughter who was then about 10 years old.

Photo by Careena Chase

“The spirit and humbleness of the people ... and the opportunity to take my daughter to see people who have beautiful spirits even though they have so little,” Kresl said.

Kresl and Keller, who moved to Idyllwild two years ago from Los Angeles, have returned to Cambodia a total of five times and have both become huge supporters and advocates for the cause of helping the CCF.

Kresl and her daughter sponsor a child in the program and they kept in touch with the two Cambodian girls for the past five years. The name of the young girl Keller sponsors is Reaksmey, who is also 17 years old. Her mother sponsors Srey Nuch, a 13-year-old, Keller said.

“It’s a personal connection. We know these girls personally and we email and correspond,” Keller said.

The two became passionately involved with the country. It is a small country of about 14 million people located in the southern portion of the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. Cambodia is bordered by Thailand to the northwest, Laos to the northeast and Vietnam to the east.

Thousands of young children survive on less than a dollar a day as they pick through the trash heaps from sunrise to sunset to find trinkets to sell so they can eat, Kresl said.

“Your money goes a long ways in Cambodia. You can make a big difference with $100,” she said. “You can change someone’s life.”

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