I have asked several people for feedback and / or reviews of my work.
I know some but not all of these people personally, and it is an eclectic group – artists, photographers, academics.
Local artist and polymath Richard Young was the first to reply. I am grateful for his thoughtful response.
We live in a world with a history that is decorated with wars incited by religious, political or egotistical ideological differences. Rarely does war have an elegance where the period following the event has a beneficial impact on the people. There are scars that sit within the people, memories of places bloodied by events that are now transitions of memory. Those who are remote from the bloodshed read or see news as it happens, make comment, abhor the tragedy, they move forward and the public memory fades to become words in history books, whether truly reported or distortions. These events become ‘Unfinished Stories’. The question is how important are they today, do they cast relevant questions about today and our future?
For the ‘Unfinished Story’, we have Cambodia at a time when the demise of South Vietnam was a resonant failure for the Americans, hidden from view, secretive. The ethnic cleansing of intellectuals by the dominant left wing and re-education and elimination of dissent by the Khmer Rouge regime lasted a relatively short time. Yates’ work is designed to amplify and preserve the memory though narrative both visual and captioned through places and events providing an eerie calmness and contrast to the violence, fear, insecurity and anxiety experienced by the victims of the Khmer Rouge and for what was their reason? The native captions reinforce their locations, the translations are for us the historical observer, we must take them to heart for our future. The narrative comes from witnesses or participants that bring the history towards the present. The images use the Infra Red part of the visible spectrum, a distortion of the truth, another perception by a electromechanical device and not our own. Printed in Black and White, are they a truth?
The Photographer has a historical relationship with both the country and the people, his passion is well illustrated. There are no images of the people who live today, just a remnant, certainly the witnesses need to have their memory preserved. This opens questions around witness and deception, the doubt argued around responsibilities. Where is the relevance in these images to contemporary injustices, the strong statement that the activities inflicted by the Khmer Rouge were not in fact punished by the world. Is the true symbolism the caption and not the image, could the images have been in a wood near Milton Keynes? Clearly, there will be no closure to this work and the story is not finished, there will be similar stories elsewhere, in war zones, in unjust cruel regimes. Is this simply a moment in history?
Dr. Richard Young, Artist and photographer – website
Talking in more detail on this with Richard, his last point is really pushing on ‘what question am I answering?’ with this work. Is there some deep truth, related to today, which I am seeking to expose?
At this point, I think not, as to a large extent the work in the UK context is educational rather than political. In Cambodia, the work is cathartic for the individuals concerned, and serves as a further body of work opening up the Genocide history for today’s audience. Perhaps, though, neither are enough. I will ponder.
Cemre Yesil also replied:
I think you made a good decision of contextualising your images with text.
However, although it might be a bit late for you to reconsider this, I think some of your images are a little bit too repetitive. i.e: the last two images. Although they share a poetic consistent visual narrative, I wonder what you left out from the earlier selections. Maybe you can relook at what you excluded and reconsider replacing some images that has different feelings.
The way you photographed the landscape is beautiful; you are somehow beautifying a landscape filled with pain; but you can expand this with different visual connotations. For example; number 6,8,11,13 provide a variety of different feelings or sensations through different textures and surfaces. So maybe a suggestion I can make is to relook at the overall selection and get rid/replace the very similar ones.
Does it make sense to you?
The statement is well written.
Cemre Yeşil Gönenli, photographer and publisher – website
I will look again at the final image choices for the FMP submission.
A comment within another email from Sarah Lee, professional photography who works with the Guardian.
It’s a powerful project. I really like it. And particularly like the way you’ve presented the text with the initial Sarath/ Simeth quotes and then the translation.
Are you exhibiting it in London at all? I’d love to see it “big” so to speak.
My plan is to use the BRLSI show and installation shots, and the book, to ‘merchandise’ other shows in 2020.
Tony Cooper was regional organiser for the Royal Photographic Society, and sent this:
As you know I have been following your Cambodian Project for some time and it is gratifying to see it in its developed form.
By definition, you were unable to capture the horror of the killing fields as events unfolded, and so you come to a calm peaceful landscape inhabited by ghosts who speak through the quotations you cite. You revert to a technique where beauty can be torn back to reveal the horror beneath. Like Sirens luring Jason and his Argonauts towards the rocks with the magical beauty of their songs.
The glow and luminance of the infra-red images bestow an out of this world atmosphere of (mainly) beauty, calm and open landscapes where man has not intervened to the detriment of nature. The quotes bring home the reality that these are tightly defined spaces where dark tragedies happened.
I could image these 20 images projected in a still and darkened room with the quotes overlaid and broadcast as speech. A powerful message indeed.
Thank you for allowing me to comment on what must be an immensely personal body of work.
Tony Cooper ARPS, AWPF
Header: Richard J S Young