Sean Sutton has witnessed, recorded and experienced horrific scenes while working as a photojournalist covering conflicts around the globe.
His photos, which will be exhibited at the Foreign Correspondents Club from today until May 21, seem at times like a homage to human misery and encapsulate everything ugly in human nature: War victims in Angola whose treatment for gangrene is the maggots that eat away the decaying flesh, or a young boy who lost both legs to a land mine in Kosovo and wanted to die rather than be an invalid.
Sutton, however, looks beyond the suffering his photos capture and sees something other than the torment they represent.
“These photos are a vehicle to bring people together—people in these countries, people with political influence, people who can change the current situation,” Sutton said.
This photo exhibit, titled “Surviving The Peace,” is his first public show in four years and marks a sort of homecoming for Sutton, who first came to Cambodia eight years ago and has visited many times since then.
He characterizes the Cambodia of 1993 as a turbulent nation, where white UN vehicles were the only cars on the streets of Phnom Penh and around 200 to 300 people per month stepped on land mines.
Gradually, he has seen the country recover from decades of civil war. The white UN vehicles have been replaced with private cars and motor scooters, and the land mine casualties have decreased to a little less than 800 per year, according to the Cambodia Mine/UXO Victim Information System monthly report.
Because of these improvements, Sutton said he believes he has come full circle, seeing Cambodia during a dark time as well as at a time of great hope.
That contrast between darkness and hope comes through in his photos.
Shot in both black and white and in color, the photographs show ugly situations, such as the child in Kuito, Angola, who lost a leg to a mine that his father, a policeman, had laid in front of their house for protection.
But other photos reveal a less grave side to conflicts. One photo shows a group of Cambodian de-miners sitting together, laughing and drinking juice from a coconut with their false legs extended in front of them.
Even the photo of a Cambodian on a crutch throwing a net into the river portrays how life continues even after tragedies.
Land mines are a large part of Sutton’s work. He left photojournalism in 1996 after becoming frustrated with how little control he had over the way his photos were being used.
That year, he joined Mines Advisory Group, an international land mine group, and has worked as their information ever since.
Like his photojournalism job, his work with MAG has sent him around the world.
Out of the many countries he’s visited, he’s most impressed with Cambodia and the strength of its people, Sutton said.
To illustrate this point, Sutton told a story of a village in Prey Vihear district where MAG helped clear mines for more than 300 families.
He met a husband and wife, both of whom had lost limbs to land mines.
“I met the couple when they recovered,” Sutton said. “And they told me ‘you can imagine what we’ve been through, what we have suffered, but now we live in a village where our children can run around safely, so thank you.’”
“That’s the message I want to get across with this photo exhibit,” Sutton said. “That there are good things that come through all of this.”
“Surviving The Peace” opens 7:30 pm Friday at the Foreign Correspondents Club, 363 Sisowath Quay.
The opening will feature short introductions by Sutton and Sam Sotha, secretary-general of Cambodia Mine Action Authority.
The exhibit runs until May 21.