Tell a Story

mickyatesCambodia, Coursework, Critical Research Journal, Documentary, Photography, SPWeek8, Sustainable Prospects, Traces, Unfinished Stories Leave a Comment

This week’s exercise is ‘tell a newspaper story in 5-7 images’.

As I have just come back from Cambodia, trying to do something very similar, here is a series. The story of a teenager walking through the jungle, evading the Khmer Rouge, to try to find his Mother – to check if she is still alive.

Sophie Gerrard’s comment:

Really interesting set Mick – what’s the reason we don’t see any faces? Are you talking of the bigger issue – one many Cambodians might be facing, or is this specific to this one individual? It’s got my attention.

My response:

Sophie, glad it got your attention!. Thank you.

Stepping back from this series, two general points.

First, the ‘hiddenness’ of the stories of people who survived the Genocide is pervasive. As I am doing this project, the Cambodians I am working with are telling hugely personal and emotional stories that their families did not know, for example. So yes, there is a mystery and trauma to all of this, which to some extent faces/portraits trivialise (maybe!).

Second, my project is about the people that we thought we have known for two decades, yet in some ways we are only now just getting to know properly. The Genocide is context for their stories, not the story itself. Aftermath photography is always hard, so for Landings, I created a contextual series (negatives) which shows an interesting direction, but is devoid of personality.

Krishna challenged me to combine the context and the humanity. This work is attempting that (if that makes sense?).

Colour versions here


I also explained more of the story in answer to Julie Dawn Dennis, who noted:

I found this work really engaging and for me the decision not to show faces enhances the sense of searching for someone who is lost. Your text adds context – without it I would not necessarily have understood what was taking place – and I was drawn in to the details, too.  I wondered what the indentations are? Did the teenager find their mother?

My response:

Julie, thank you. Starting at the end, yes, the boy, Sarath, did find his mother. He then returned, still fearful for his life, to his work camp. Both survived the Genocide, and today I am recording their stories.

The mother, Am Yon, is now 87. Here she is, a couple of months ago. It’s her hands in the last image of the sequence.

I chose not to include faces as in this part of my project, I wanted to explore the aftermath, the traces rather than the personalities – although that is pretty hard to do, and maybe unwise. Aesthetically, I also wanted to move away from ‘normal’ documentary, in an effort to get the audience to ponder a little more.

You are totally right, the images need to words.

The indentations (holes) are actually part of the 15th/16th century water systems at Preah Vihear Temple, from the ‘golden’ days of the Khmer Empire. However, the area was also one of the last strongholds of the Khmer Rouge, until 1999. Even today, it is an area disputed with Thailand. In fact, I was there in 2011, around the time the two sides were throwing the occasional shells at each other. The area is still fortified, with an army presence, when I was there a couple of months ago. So, it’s an ‘old’ image’, but, I think, deep in meaning.

Thanks for your interest in this, Julie. Hope this helps explain.

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