Stefan Ellis, a former photographer in Cambodia, died tragically in the US
on December 2.
Mark Dodd, former Reuters chief in Phnom Penh, now in Tanzania, sent this farewell
I will remember Thanksgiving Day, 1996 very well, and coming from an Australian,
that's no small feat recalling American holidays. I was winging it back from the
Ngara refugee camps, hoping to make Nairobi by nightfall. Looking up at the heavens,
it was heavy weather, leaden clouds haemorrhaging over the towering mountain range
that marks the Rwanda-Tanzania border. The sun broke through when we were droning
over Lake Victoria and for one brief moment it appeared as a silver mirror far below.
Stefo, old friend - what have you done?
Brother King of the Kompong Thom "Swamp Castle," Evil Kneevil awardee for
hot licks on Route 6. In covering the strife up north during UNTAC, we never did
settle the wager over who had made the most trips to Salar Vissay and surrounds.
I lost count at 12. It's peaceful in Kompong Thom now. By the way, I treasure that
photograph of the militiaman with the RPD machine gun pushing his bicycle through
the churned up slop on Route 6.
We were quite a team for a while. The dirty half dozen working the wires. You, me,
Serge, Helene, Leo, and Nate. And the stories we covered together. The "Battle
of Phnom Penh," December 21, 1991. You and Cooney out in the front of 3,000
banner-waving students on the anti-corruption march to parliament. It was a long
hot day, and night, that one. Leo getting sconed on the noggin by that rock during
the fracas between the medical students and the police. And you were right, they
weren't all students - remember the guy with the .45 stuck in his pants urging the
medicos to riot. Which faction did he work for? Cambodian politics - what a quagmire.
And yes Stefan, we could see the shell case being ejected from the pistol fired by
the police chief over the heads of the students. Nice scoop - went round the world,
that pic. That night, along then Achar Mean, crouching behind the flower pots outside
the Monorom when the APCs went past firing at the demonstrators. Arthur nearly got
whacked that night, lucky to lose only camera gear and bike. You used to be able
to see the bullet scars on the cinema before it got pulled down. Months later, I'd
walk up to that green garbage container parked on the side of the road and finger
the bullet hole in the top, just to remind me it did happen. You didn't like to admit
it, but it was your first close brush with the other world wasn't it? You and Serge
firing flash shots outside the police compound moments before they opened up. The
ricochets took two people there.
What was it like dialling out of Cambodia - what was the fix? I hope you didn't think
we were conned by the camouflage fatigues and the jargon. Stef, you were a very sensitive
person, but you did like to keep that side of you buried. In matters of the heart,
it sometimes boiled over. Hey tough guy - did it really matter if you dropped Helene?
And who among us wasn't moved by your love for your father.
We shared your disappointment at not getting the Moscow job and admired your grit
to head over there anyway to prove your mettle as a freelance, a stint cut short
by street toughs and another close call. Then we started losing touch. You tried
the Middle East and went into a holding pattern yo-yoing between your friends in
Cambodia and your professional instincts. Back in Cambodia again on the renaissance
tour you proved your adaptability by shooting video news.
I was looking forward to working with you when you got to East Africa. Shared beers
with a mate after a day on the trail. Looking forward to a laugh at that acid-sharp
sense of humor of yours.
You're not being here - that's really a terrible shame because the story of the Great
Lakes crisis is poorer without your contribution, deprived of your compassionate
and keen photographer's eye - and another day of life.
- Your friend Mark.