Found Cambodia archive charts life before and after Khmer Rouge

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 1:30pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 April, 2015, 1:30pm

“It’s hard to get people to talk about the past in Cambodia,” says Charles Fox,  “whether that’s due to emotion or fading memories.” The best way to retrieve stories about life before and after the Khmer Rouge regime, the British photographer found, was through photographs.

Fox created Found Cambodia,  an ongoing digital archive that offers an alternative look at the country’s complex history, showing how a society has remade itself in the wake of genocide. The long-term project – April 17 marked the 40th anniversary  of the fall of the Cambodian capital to Pol Pot’s regime – brings together citizen's snapshots and studio portraits from before and after the Khmer Rouge.

Found Cambodia is an ever-growing account of family life supplied by locals who have entrusted Fox with their pasts. The results are striking, touching and sometimes amusing – but above all, they show how people can triumph over tyrants.

Fox is not interested in the usual pictures that get framed and hung on walls – photos of weddings, graduations, grandchildren – but the ones that are hidden, torn and scuffed and stuffed away. “Everything is kept in plastic bags or in the back of cupboards,” he says, “and a lot of them haven’t been cared for. But these memories must be preserved.”

“What’s been presented in the press and the history books doesn’t translate into the day-to-day lives of these people,” says Fox. It’s hard to grasp what people went through and witnessed during those years – forced evacuation, isolation, torture, starvation, exhaustion, execution – but witnessing the aftermath in pictures and stories is moving, even without grasping all the chilling details of the country’s history.

This archive deftly gives a personal face to the Cambodian genocide. The goal, says Fox, is to “give a gentle insight into people’s day-to-day, and how they’ve rebuilt themselves. I like that softer, more personal side. People make a country, people make a culture.”

See more photos at foundcambodia.com  or follow Charles Fox on Twitter: @charlesfox79

The Guardian