Between 1975 and 1979 the Khmer Rouge killed 1.7 – 2.2 million people in their attempt to create an agrarian society cleansed of the urban intelligentsia. Forty years later the Genocide’s devastating impact on Cambodian society still resonates. What happened to the individuals that survived those horrific times has largely been left unspoken.
Our collective memory is driven by the images of ‘mug shots’ of victims of the Tuol Sleng torture facility and skulls from the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Those accused were meticulously photographed, tortured until they confessed, and killed. The camera was in effect their executioner. Yet there are almost 20,000 grave sites which go unnoticed and are mainly unmarked. Prince Sihanouk tried to keep Cambodia neutral, but he allowed Vietnamese supply lines to cross the country during the Vietnam War.
US bombs killed tens of thousands of innocent Cambodians in a vain effort to disrupt these trails. This helped push the population towards the Khmer Rouge.
The story of the Genocide is buried in an anonymous landscape.
Until the death of Pol Pot in 1998, part of the country remained under Khmer Rouge control. In 1999, Ingrid and Mick Yates founded a primary school program in the Reconciliation Areas. Working in collaboration with Save the Children, the Ministry of Education and even some ex-Khmer Rouge, the partnership helped rebuild the local education system. Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth, despite personal traumas of the Genocide years, led the programs towards a more hopeful future for children.
UNFINISHED STORIES uses photography, text and video to bring to light some of the previously unheard stories. The work uses first person accounts of the atrocities, with each photograph carrying a quote in Khmer from Sarath or Simeth describing the horror they lived through and anchoring the image in place. Infrared photography underscores the strange phenomenology of the now often beautiful landscape that witnessed the Genocide. Typefaces are clean and modern, reflecting the contemporary nature of the spoken words against memories of decades gone by.
The series is complex, out of time and paradoxical. Individual images are calm, yet they are also intensely personal and horrific.
Exhibition at Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institute, December 2019
FROM GENOCIDE TO HOPE
This book is about the personal, untold stories of Keo Sarath and Beng Simeth who suffered appallingly during the Khmer Rouge reign of terror. It is also a story of hope, of two unassuming individuals who went on to dedicate their lives to education.
We first met Sarath and Simeth in 1999, and their memories of those times have never been published before.
The book combines Mick’s photography of the aftermath of Genocide from the now silent Killing Fields with powerful and poignant narratives from Sarath and Simeth.
all images, video & content copyright © Mick Yates 2020