Cambodia has a grim recent history and the Toul Sleng Genocide museum helps to explain what happened during the time of the Khmer Rouge. What it doesn't answer is 'why?' - a question that Cambodians still cannot answer.
The US intervention in Cambodia (early 1970s), including carpet bombing of communist controlled areas, left the country in a terrible state. The Khmer Rouge increased its military strength and advanced to Phnom Penh in 1975. Cambodia became Democratic Kampuchea and the inhabitants of the capital were sent to the countryside. Pol Pot became the dictator and year zero began with the population forced to work the land as peasants. The Vietnamese liberated Phnom Penh in 1979 and the true level of the atrocities were then revealed. At least 1 million Cambodians died (population of about 7 million) through savage killing, starvation and disease. The Vietnam invasion, led to further war between the Soviet backed Vietnamese and the Chinese and US backed anti-Vietnamese rebels. In 1989 the Vietnamese withdrew and civil war escalated but in 1991 the Paris Peace Accord started the road to peace but the Khmer Rouge continued guerrilla warfare and disruption of elections. Normality did not start to return until about 1999. Of course the politics and recent history of Cambodia are far more complicated than I have been able to describe here so apologies for the simplification.
The Genocide museum in Phnom Penh was Security Prison 21 (once a High School) and was the main torture and interrogation centre for the Khmer Rouge from 1975- 1978. The horror of the appauling conditions and brutal acts of genocide cannot be described easily. The photograph (apologies for poor quality)looks through a door into a former classroon that was divided into small cells which were overcrowded with tortured people. The WS shows some of the 'regulations'.
The Cambodians that we met all lost family members and some remember fleeing to the jungle to escape the Khmer Rouge. They talk about the painful era as a way of reminding the world that true evil can emerge. When asked 'why?' this happened they have no answers.
Critiques | Translate
batalay (34733) 2012-11-08 22:51
Here it is the ungodly hour of 1:45 am, and I am about to retire for the night. I just read the note you've provided with this alluring work of art... Unhappily the note reminds us of the human savagery that we see again and again. As we get more sophisticated technologically, we would hope that we would become a bit wiser. But there seems to be a conservation law for good and evil. The past three generations have seen among others, WWII, the Khmer Rouge, Rwanda, Bosnia... Some years ago I heard a talk by the journalist/author/survivor of the book, "The Killing Fields."
Regards and have a good weekend,
JFS (32459) 2012-11-08 22:59
A special image that only a good photograph could take, smooth light, different textures, impecable POV...An excellent work Ann!
tyro (18588) 2012-11-09 0:34
Good morning Ann,
You have given us a very poignant note and two very poignant photographs this morning to stir our emotions to the full!
Despite what you say about the simplicity of your note, it does give us a very good précis of the history of this place and the atrocities carried out there. And make no apology whatsoever for the quality of your photographs either - to my mind their quality is excellent and they convey the distressing history perfectly.
Your main picture is just fabulous: the decaying, damaged old stonework of the original building and the quickly and shoddily built crude brick cells, though now devoid of all sign of human life, immediately conjure up images of this rude place packed with starving and tortured prisoners suffering at the hands of their aggressively dominant captors. And your workshop picture, with its text written in less than perfect language, reflects the inhumane and evil minds of its authors.
As I say, I think this pair of photographs is wonderful. Thirty years ago they would have made fabulous "reportage" pictures but now they stir the mind and make us reflect on the inhumanity of Mankind.
The lighting in this, your main picture, is superb and somehow you have managed to deal with the strong contrasts of lighting and still retain all detail in both the darkest shadows and the lightest parts. The damaged doorway makes a perfect frame for those crude cells, brightly lit, the lines of the dirty floor tiles add perspective to the composition, the colours are wonderfully vibrant and (again despite what you say) the details and sharpness are excellent.
Though not perhaps the prettiest photograph(s) I have seen here, this must rank amongst the very best photograph and note combinations ever uploaded to TE and, as such, it just has to be added to my favourites.
Thank you for this.
daddo (22634) 2012-11-09 0:52
Hi Ann. You have raised some interesting questions in your note. I suppose it all started, metaphorically speaking or literally if one is a believer,with Cain and Abel. Fratricide has been with us from the beginning because of envy, psychological malfunction,insecurity, hatred, megalomania, thirst for power... These would be some of the reasons for the actions of both the leaders and the followers. As to why so many join in the Slaughter of the Innocent, maybe we are more akin to the devil than the angels and like to inflict pain and suffering upon others if we think there are no consequences to our actions.
I was in PP recently and did not go close to any of these places of torture and death since I carry in me the pain of a somewhat similar history from my own country of origin.
What I found hard to reconcile in Cambodia is the fact that the killer and the victim are now living cheek to jowl without any justice being given to the latter. The world had decided to look away when it came to the suffering people of Cambodia and the show that was put on years later came too late.
Antipodean (1589) 2012-11-09 1:04
Kia ora Ann,
You have a very powerful image here which speaks more than a thousand words! The simplicity of the doorway and the bare bricks beyond bear mute testament to the horrors that occurred not so very long ago. Regards, Neil
delpeoples (52447) 2012-11-09 1:40
Hi dear Ann
I can only echo the others' sentiments by saying that this is a very powerful and poignant photo and note. It's not pretty but it really packs a punch. The photo has a really sad yet menacing atmosphere to it, with all that play of light and shade. The POV you have chosen - through the broken wall adds to that sense of menace. Your note is both eloquent and appropriate and is symbolic of the reason why I am so addicted to this site. Thanks for sharing.
Have a lovely day
SnapRJW (29282) 2012-11-09 3:51
Hello Ann - I've have visited Toulsleng twice and on both occasions I have been knocked sideways by what I have seen. Your comment about all Cambodians having lost family members in the senseless genocide bears out the stories we heard from all we met. I was so impressed by the Cambodian people and their ability to bounce back and to be amongst the most warm-hearted and dignified people I have every met. Can I say, I love this shot? It brings back special memories of a special country and despite the location and all that it signifies and represents it is a fine photograph beautifully composed and managed.
TFS this and your very good note.
Warm regards Rosemary
snunney (79551) 2012-11-09 4:15
An excellent composition from this poignant place; reading your note memories came flooding back of that excellent and compelling film 'The Killing Fields'. Superb realisation by you.
timecapturer (45163) 2012-11-09 4:41
evocative and emotive imagery. A simple image that speaks volumes and one hopes that mankind learns from places kept as reminders like this. Thought provoking words and imagery!
Have a peaceful weekend - Brian.
Nicou (116266) 2012-11-09 5:24
quel découpage de ce mur sueprbe quelle compo il a été cassé à la masse, comme on voit bien l'intérieur des brique qutour et au-travers de cette oiuverture de mur.
Bravo et amitié
saxo042 (36906) 2012-11-09 6:56
A good picture with a very high documentary value. The WS picture is maybe even more interesting even if it lacks the visual value of this capture. You have really conveyed the terror from this dreadful place.
Jeppo (17639) 2012-11-09 12:04
I also visited Tou Sleng Prison 4 years ago. It's a place when you can still feel the grief and pain the people suffered from....
holmertz (37041) 2012-11-09 12:12
I was here a few years ago and probably tok a similar photo, but nothing from here turned out as well as this. The light is excellent and the primitive brutality of the cells is obvious to anyone.
A friend of mine searching for clues to his father's disappearance finally found his photo in the upstairs gallery.
Actually the spelling should be Tuol Sleng :-)
kathryn_weir (2056) 2012-11-09 12:36
Superb lighting and clever composition to demonstrate this most dark and distressing place. Wonderfully eloquent reportage.
Thank you for your sensitive approach to such a tragic subject
ACL1978 (7467) 2012-11-09 16:07
Thanks for this really touching and important photograph. The Cambodian Genocide is of course just another dark stain on the foreign legacy of the United States... near the area where I live there's a city called Lowell, a former mill town which is now a major center for Cambodian immigration in the United States. Many of the people there fled here during or just after the Genocide; many of course still remember it vividly. This is the kind of place they remember well.
From a purely photographic perspective it is really something; showing us the view through the door with sunlight streaming in but only illuminating a small part of the room creates a very specific haunted mood perfect for the subject. Those cell openings, with their contents just out of sight, evoke a horror or dread at what might be there - or, more appropriately, what might once have been. Thanks for this.
dkmurphys (46162) 2012-11-09 23:23
Painful memories and a place of horrors. Why? Because the human kind can be bad as simple as it can be beautiful.
Have a fine weekend.
siolaw (38050) 2012-11-09 23:33
Hi Ann, And welcome to the Cambodia TE page! ;D
A sickening place, I went a couple of times, some years ago it was a deserted place with almost no visitors... the atmosphere was even worse than now, with quite some tourists running around!
Ther POV gives a good idea of the small cells size...
Greetings from Phnom Penh... :D
Too bad i missed your messages... would have been nice to meet!
marabu61 (7353) 2012-11-10 10:29
a good reminder of the attrocities that mankind is capable of in your note and the photo goes perfectly with it. A good POV, this is evokes the horrors of the place and the ghosts that hunt it.
have a good weekend
brianmcc (6005) 2012-11-10 13:54
hi ann, your notes, your picture and your workshop with the picture of the regulations all combine to form a chilling reminder of this brutal regime, and its cruelty towards so many people. the gap in the door alone looks frightening, never mind the history that lines behind it.
have a great weekend,
corjan3 (2025) 2012-11-10 18:24
I have just read your very informative note and I am as appalled as ever at the suffering that those poor people had to endure. This image conveys the horror of the manifestations of unquenchable lust for power that usually underpins such a horrific regime, from the top down to the lowliest rank. I think part of the answer to the question "Why?" lies therein, with hatred being one of the most powerful instruments in its service.
Imagine...a classroom turned into a torture chamber!
Thank you for this meaningful contribution.
MJR (3360) 2012-11-11 15:10
Off on your travels again !
You have some delightfully colourful images, but I find myself drawn to this sombre and provocative post instead.
If it were not for the colour and the slightly ramshackle building work, this picture and your note could be from a previous age and much nearer to home. Truly shocking. I bet you were moved by your visit, I was absolutely incredulous when I visited Auschwitz, and I know I carry the mental images with me still. ( sadly all my digital images got lost in a computer failure )
But your photo, typically Ann ! Neat, tidy, almost minimalist, but telling us all you wanted us to know. Good work, I'd say !
COSTANTINO (51290) 2012-11-12 21:49
I chose this shot today because of its title
...why?...simple shot but nice bringing
memories from the past.lights and shadows play
together verywellcomposed,nice photo with
warm lights,your notes are very useful
and help me to understand its history
Glint (6163) 2012-11-13 7:55
this image is not just about the obvious quality of the photograph (well managed light)but about the content too. Together with the workshop it is an informative if chilling posting.As you say, TE is/should be about more than simply pretty pictures.There is a big world out there, some of it not very edifying.
Tigerlily (2915) 2012-11-14 6:49
This is an excellent shot, wonderful tone range, beautiful colour and detail..
Your writing is remarkable. "Why?", Really. I had thought of it as well.. but I couldn't answer. Sometimes I think it's part of the human nature, part of the culture..Human can do nasty things to each other regardless of race, location or religion.. did you remember that 70's psychological experiment in US( I only heard of it), they let the people play different roles, prisoners and jailers.. people were carried away..eventually they couldn't carry on.. because too much damage to the 'prisoners'. Also the other repeated 70's test on BBC a few years ago..they asked people to give electric shocks to somebody in another room...when the watt was high enough to kill, some people still carried on to send the electric shock, because they followed orders... but some people didn't..from this point...I thought that whatever the society, religion, and location.. the independent thinking is the most valuable thing, a lot of tragedies can be avoid... rather than following the others...human behaviour can also be limited by social matters, such as religion, moral and rules..to maintain the social order.. we make our decisions independently and accordingly..blindly follow is too dangerous to any society. I think that in these area, including China, poor education, culture,play a big role, mainly independent thinking is not encouraged.
macjake (52076) 2012-11-14 15:04
I agree with John's statement about this being a great reportage style photo.
I'm not sure exactly what I could possibly add regarding the horrible subject/story that accompanies the photo, I'm not the most articulate man with my words, as John and Bulent are.
a fine photo, a sad story, but one that must not be forgotten if we are to learn from it.
thanks for this wonderful post
Silvio1953 (115857) 2012-11-16 9:07
Ciao Ann, fantastic light and very interesting note, lovely composition with good DOF and excellent clarity, very well done, my friend, have a good week end, ciao Silvio
Hansaphotos (6415) 2012-11-17 14:09
Excellent capture that together with your write up conveys well the horrible history of this place. We can only hope that this museum tells the story in such a good way that it helps to prevent similar incidents take place in the future. In my opinion the quality of this photo is quite good and the lighting is excellent. Excellent work:) TFS. Have a nice WE.
Best regards, Erling
Robert1969 (6858) 2012-11-18 6:21
A picture with an excellent composition and
light management. This with the vertical
position creates a nice depth and makes also
the picture exciting.