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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, and personal stories remain untold.

Our collective memory is driven by the ‘mug shots’ of victims at the Tuol Sleng torture facility and the skulls from the Choeung Ek Killing Fields. Those accused were meticulously photographed, tortured until they confessed, and then killed.

The camera was in effect their executioner.

Yet there are almost 20,000 mainly unmarked grave sites across the forests. 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.

Despite its power to judge, the camera also has limitations in telling such complex stories. How can we condense Genocide into a short series of contemporary images? How do we show bodies not there? How do we best communicate intense, horrific stories of survivors without falling foul of triteness and trope?

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 tells the personal accounts of our Cambodian friends who have never spoken out before. It combines a photograph which illustrates the strange phenomenology of the now often beautiful landscape with a quotation from their traumatic experience.

Infrared photography examines hidden detail in the now often beautiful landscape. The Khmer language is used to respect the storyteller whilst also anchoring the geographic location of communal suffering. English aids the Western audience.

This paradoxical series, in chronological order of events, combines present-day photographs of that historical landscape of death, made real with narratives of personal pain in that same landscape.


Exhibition at Bath Royal Literary & Scientific Institute, December 2019

BRLSI December 2019 1
BRLSI December 2019 2

Video Interviews

Book

Book Digital Print 1600

UNFINISHED STORIES

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.

AVAILABLE TO PURCHASE HERE

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all images, video & content copyright © Mick Yates 2021

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