S-21 Photographer Apologizes to KR Victims

Nhem En, who was chief photographer at the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 torture center, apologized to the regime’s victims at a conference on forgiveness and reconciliation in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

He also discussed his plans to open a “museum” in Oddar Mean­chey province’s Anlong Veng district to house a permanent collection of his photos of victims taken prior to their execution.

“I would like to say sorry,” he told the conference, held at the US Embassy.

Nhem En said he was one of six photographers at S-21. He also photographed many Khmer Rouge leaders.

The Anlong Veng museum will be built in cooperation with the Cul­ture Ministry and the Documen­tation Center of Cambodia, Nhem En said.

DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang said he was heartened that former Khmer Rouge members in Anlong Veng had begun contributing to build the museum.

The harrowing images from Tuol Sleng are icons of the genocide. But there were other pictures taken there besides the well-known static portraits of the condemned men, women and children. Journ­alists have described photos of prisoners with throats cut and ab­domens flayed, and a series depicting a dying man sliding through a pool of his own blood.

One man at Tuol Sleng faces the camera with a number pinned into his flesh. When prisoners asked him why they were at S-21, Nhem En said he replied, “I do not know. I am a photographer.”

In his 2005 book “The Lost Executioner,” photojournalist Nic Dunlop recalls that Nhem En tried to charge him $300 for an hour-long interview, though Dunlop bargained him down to $50.

Nhem En has also made a tidy profit from his revolutionary handiwork over the past few years by peddling his photographs to re­porters and researchers.

Speaking at the conference, US Ambassador Joseph Mussomeli said, “I hope these photographs will always unsettle us and make us uncomfortable. We have all heard the old cliche that a picture is worth a thousand words. Each of these pictures is worth a thousand tears.”




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