Conversation with Lukas Birk

mickyatesCambodia, CambodiaFMP, ContextualResearch, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Ideas, Photography, Plans & Notes, Practice, Project Development, SSWeek6, SurfacesStrategies 6 Comments

Following an introduction from Cemre, had a terrific conversation today with Lukas Birk.

I explained a little of my background, motivations and the Cambodia project itself.

These points came up in discussion:

  1. How can I make a product to engage people?
  2. Video seems the way to go for interviews, especially.
  3. Given the (still) rather hidden nature of this history, consider using the Internet to create something special, to engage a new audience.
  4. Lukas is also at heart a photographer, but will use whatever it takes to tell the story. Video, found photographs, memorabilia, and so on. Sometimes a story needs much more than still and text.
  5. In many ways, a book would be the easiest thing to do, particularly given the archive material I have. So, that is not the start point. A book will have a small audience, and probably engage people who are pre-disposed to the story (and therefore to buy). We need to engage a new audience.
  6. On the traces work, Lukas has the same warning as everyone else – the balance between aesthetics and documentary is essential.
  7. Alfredo Jaar created work on the Rwanda Genocide using the absence of things (e.g. no news coverage via Magazine covers, Lightbox with slides of 1 million eyes). Cemre also mentioned his work.
  8. As this is an ‘education‘ project, consider how you get that learning across, to engage the audience.
  9. This project has real value for both the local (Cambodian) audience and a global one. Lukas has realised that he needs to create books in the country itself. So, his Myanmar project is first produced there, despite quality issues, to meet the price and to appeal locally. He has found a local eagerness to engage with history.
  10. A necessary step would also be to have any ‘net presence in both Khmer and English.
  11. And a foreigner can act as mediator, outsider, to get these stories out. Lukas believes my access and knowledge can do that in Cambodia.
  12. The project has both deeply personal reasons for being, and a reason to reach an external audience. Lukas commented that it’s good that I am trying to separate. His work always starts from personal curiosity or need – but, again, what’s the product?
  13. Lukas commented that many projects these days are rather ‘I’ centric … so far, I hope my project isn’t (too much), although there is a deep family connection. I told the story of Victoria, age 10, meeting the Khmer Rouge.
  14. I commented that I feel I need to deliver a product to Sarath, family and friends. So far, they are open to using the stories with a broader public.
  15. Lukas pointed to KR Interviews by Thomas Weber Carlsen and Jan Krogsgaard.
  16. Overall, Lukas liked the project, and what I am trying to do. He felt I had the knowledge, access and archive to get this done
  17. He offered to stay in touch on it, and give any help or advice he could, for which I am very grateful.
  18. Thank you, Cemre!


Header: © Lukas Birk – Smiley’s Stamp Collection

Birk, Lukas & Foley, Sean. 2008. Kafkanistan. Austria.

Carlsen, Thomas Weber & Krogsgaard, Jan. 2011. Voices of Cambodia Trailer. Available at (Accessed 13/07/2018).

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