Framing the Khmer Rouge

Cambodia has long been presented to the world through the viewfinders of foreign photographers – but that’s slowly starting to change.

In Cambodia, the Khmer Rouge have left deep and lasting scars on the land, the people, and the culture. The ultra-communist government killed nearly 2 million people between 1975 and 1979, including most of the country’s intellectuals and artists. As a result, those who initially documented these lasting effects were foreign photographers, but this has slowly begun to change, with Cambodian photographers producing increasingly singular work, often in spite of the lack of access to resources and formal education. How has this change come about? And why is it significant?

The Early Years: Cambodia Through a Foreign Lens

For all its impact on Cambodia and its people, the Khmer Rouge regime has overwhelmingly been framed by images taken by international photojournalists. Seminal work, such as Roland Neveu’s “The Fall of Phnom Penh,” captured the entrance of the Khmer Rouge’s black-clad soldiers into the capital Phnom Penh on April 17, 1975. And there was John Burgess, who found himself on assignment in 1980 with the Washington Post. His images show the rebirth of Phnom Penh, offering a snapshot of the country’s resilience after four years of hell.

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