Photo Essay: Diving Into The Killing Fields

I HAVE NO CLAIM, personal or professional, to Cambodian history, politics or culture. I’d been in the country for fewer than 24 hours when we visited the Killing Fields and Tuol Sleng Prison Museum; the extent of my knowledge re: Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot was having watched The Killing Fields in a journalism class a few years back. That may render this photo essay superficial in the eyes of some, especially since it marks my first foray into digital black and white, which is kind of, I admit, pretentious, except that it just sort of feels better for some of these shots.

I tried to convey the experience of getting a heavy, visceral, three-hour-long crash course in the genocide to which I and many others know only vaguely, if at all. It’s fucking depressing. The shots of the main Killing Field, Choeung-ek, which is a very info- and sign-centric museum, are in colour; the Tuol Sleng shots are black and white, and are meant to be a bit more subjective, since that museum offers very little info and is mostly comprised of artefacts and filthy, empty prison cells meant to make you feel shitty about life.

These images won’t do justice to either one, but if you don’t know much about the Khmer Rouge, and feel like hating humanity just a little bit more, do a little Wikipedia briefing to understand them better.

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5 comments

  1. thewanderingorange · · Reply

    I remember bursting into tears when I first saw the killing tree…so sad. 😦

  2. fucking depressing is the way to describe it. I think Cambodia had the heaviest feel to the country and people of anywhere we’ve been in SE Asia. Like the ground was so drenched in cruelty and death that it is still seeping out of the nation’s pores. A place where the visitor is confronted with the darkest side of humans. But – Angkor Wat shows what glories the very same people can achieve. Our time there gave me lots to ponder. —Jadi

  3. This is the first post I’ve viewed of yours (it just happened to come up under “travel”) but I find your information, writing and photos absolutely fascinating. I can’t wait to keep reading through your blog and discover your new posts!

  4. This isn’t something you “like” but in an awkward uncomfortable squirm in your seat kinda way go – what a tragic chapter in global history. HCMC also has a museum of ‘shame’ documenting visually the atrocities from the Vietnam War. The slant there is unmistakable – valiant brave poor Vietnamese people vs nasty horrible well equipped big Americans (French). The slant is irrelevant, the cost of war or geonocide is, as you so eloquently put it “fucking depressing!”

    1. We went to the Vietnam museum—well, one of them, anyway—and I was actually impressed that they showed some of the decent Americans, and gave a less biased view than I expected.

      Here, there are no good guys; no heroes or rebel Khmer Rouge soldiers; no citizen uprisings I know of. Much mor bleak.

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