Frank Finlay, Dean of Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures at the University of Leeds put me in touch with Paul Cooke. Paul is Professor at the Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures – School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds.
I am hopeful to get some 2020 ‘action’ via collaboration, and possibly an exhibition in Leeds. We are all meeting on October 22nd in Leeds.
Here’s the conversation:
I run a project called ‘Changing the Story: building civil society with and for young people in post-conflict countries’. We’re currently working in 12 countries, one of which is Cambodia.
We’ve run a couple of projects there (in partnership with my colleague Dr Pete Manning from the University of Bath), the main one being a participatory film project in Along Veng, working with DC Cam and supporting teacher training (here’s a link to some more info about the project, including a film we made during the project training week https://changingthestory.leeds.ac.uk/the-anlong-veng-peace-tours-cambodia/ ).
We’re also now developing a new education-focussed film project with The Bophana Centre (https://bophana.org).
There’s lots of info about the other things we’ve been doing on the website.
It would be great to talk to you about your work in Cambodia. Do let me know if you’d like to have a chat at some point.
Paul / September 16th
Professor Paul Cooke
Centre for World Cinemas and Digital Cultures
School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, University of Leeds
Currently leading: Changing the Story: Building Civil Society with, and for, Young People in 5 Post-Conflict Countries
Good to ‘meet’.
My family first visited Cambodia in 1994 (we spent 11 years living and working in Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore). On a sunny day at Angkor Wat, we heard the distant rumble of shellfire. The guns prompted our desire to better understand Cambodia and started our love for its people.
As you well know, Pol Pot’s death allowed the process of National Reconciliation to begin. So, in 1999 my wife Ingrid and I founded a primary school project, in collaboration with Save the Children and the Cambodian Ministry of Education, included working with ex Khmer Rouge. Early 2000 we journeyed for the first time to Anlong Veng, with our then 10 year old daughter.
You can see my take on Cambodian History here:
And some of the original notes on the school program here:
It grew to be a multi-million dollar school and training program. Ingrid and I received medals from the Royal Cambodian government for National Reconstruction, and we remain quite well connected with the country.
Today, I am doing a Masters in Photography (Falmouth, Online). One of the end stages is a book, which I will be printing and publishing in Cambodia end November. This will be on sale in Cambodia and elsewhere.
Keo Sarath, a survivor of the Genocide, was responsible for managing the school program. He, his family and his co-workers became our friends. The Khmer Rouge had executed Sarath’s father, and as a teenager (like everyone else) he was forced to work in a camp, separated from his mother, Am Yon. After weeks of deliberation, he ran away overnight, through the jungle, to see if she was still alive. Scared, evading mines, wolves and soldiers, he eventually met her. I am telling his story, amongst others, as part of the MA project.
A selection of my recent photography on this is here:
I am also doing an exhibition in Bath in December. Both the book and exhibition will include a short history of the Khmer Rouge years, as so many people really don’t know about it, today. It will then include personal stories from Sarath and others. My photographs will be used throughout together with many archival images.
Here’s some more detail:
At the moment, no immediate plans to visit Leeds – although, Frank, I haver been talking with Jim Brogden about getting involved with the Photography & Media group, alongside my IDEA CETL Visiting Prof’s role.
Anyway that’s the update! Hope we can catch up, soon.
Mick / September 19th
I pressed ‘send’ too early, as I meant to add a few more things related to your work in Cambodia.
Firstly, I am very impressed with the ‘Changing the Story’ work. It’s a brilliant project.
As the material rightly suggests, ‘Reconciliation’ is in so many ways a word that doesn’t quite work in Cambodia. Young people do not always believe, old people do not want to discuss it – and that is before one gets to the differences between the south and the long-term Khmer Rouge areas like Anlong Veng – which is, of course, where we were active. Ask Khim Suon, the lady that looks after Pol Pot’s cremation site and she will tell you that she still respects Pol Pot as he tried to protect the country from outsiders.
There is also a sense in the country of malaise – wanting to move on but not to know how. And that is affected by the current political situation, which is deeply cynical.
Secondly, I know and very much respect Youk Chhang and his work, and completely agree with the need to understand and learn from the past. From the beginning of our time working in Cambodia, my wife and I always took the view that education was the key to most things. We worked with Khmer Rouge from that beginning, and did that in hopefully a sensible way. We were collectively in the ‘school infrastructure business’, and that physicality was our route to reconciliation and thus dealing ethically with the project. I still visit with such people today – Cheat Chum was the KR Brigadier in charge at Trapeang Prasat, 34 kms from Anlong Veng. Hun Sen wanted to make him a General in the RCAF, but instead he wanted to become a district administrator. Earlier this year he told me he wished that the Government took a stronger leadership role in improving the welfare of the people.
Today, as I have been going back to develop the photographic and story telling work, we have unearthed more truths and (in fact) pain which had remained hidden even as we got to know and work with people of the older generation.
Your project is deeply collaborative, which is why it is so powerful.
That said, I find myself sometimes at odds with the idea of ‘socially engaged photography’ professed by others, where it seems that just adopting that label makes a photographer’s work ‘valuable’.
To me, social engagement needs to lead to some kind of action – highlighting issues and awareness is a start but not sufficient for true change to take place (as Frank knows, I used to be in business, and I have a Masters in Change Management). You might find this post of interest in this regard.
It would be great to talk this and other things through over a good dinner.
How are you both fixed in the last week of October / first two weeks of November?
I have a question and an idea.
The question: I am also using DC-Cam photographs – but I wonder if you have the archival movie footage to hand? The clips you use in the Vimeo video could really be helpful to my installation in December. If you have these files readily available that would be a practical help – I’ll then ask Youk for formal permission to use.
The idea: After I have finished the exhibition in Bath, would the University have interest in mounting a similar installation next year using my work?
Mick / September 20th