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Meta House pays tribute to vaunted photographer

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Tim Page (centre with camera) in an undated group photo with land management ministry officials. Page was well-known and loved in Phnom Penh from his many visits that spanned several decades. META HOUSE

Meta House pays tribute to vaunted photographer

A photo collection by legendary war photographer by Tim Page from the Vietnam War during 1960s and 1970s, and Cambodia between 1990s and 2014, will be exhibited at Meta House.

Page – a frequent contributor in the early days of The Post – passed away on August 24 at the age of 78.

Meta House is inviting audiences for a pop-up photo exhibition from Friday, September 2 to Sunday, September 4.

The centre had other exhibitions already scheduled, but when founder Nico Mesterharm learned of Page’s death, Meta House decided to commemorate his life and achievements with the three-day show.

“No photographer had more shows at Meta House than Tim Page,” said Mesterharm, who met Page shortly after the German cultural centre opened in 2007.

This was by way of introduction by Michael Hayes, the founder of The Phnom Penh Post, with the original Post offices being only two buildings away from Meta House at the time, Mesterharm said.

Page and Mesterharm became friends, and in 2015 they travelled to Germany together for a large-scale exhibition at the Berlin Academy of the Arts.

“I feel extremely saddened by the passing of my friend Tim Page. He was known as a photographer who would go anywhere, fly in anything, snap the shutter under any conditions, and when hit, go at it again in bandages.

“In his later years, Page was as thoughtful as he had been flamboyant, and as articulate about the personal costs of war as he had been about its thrills,” Mesterharm said.

Mesterharm tells the story of Page from a young age through the Vietnam War, the Khmer Rouge and the killing of his best friend, to the end of his life.

Tim Page left England at 17 to travel across Europe and the Middle East to India and Nepal. He found himself in Laos at the time an attempted coup and ended up working as a stringer for United Press International.

From there he moved on to Saigon, where he covered the Vietnam War for the next five years. He also covered the Six-Day War in the Middle East in 1967.

“The role of war photographer suited Page’s craving for danger and excitement. He became an iconic photographer of the Vietnam War, and his pictures were the visual inspiration for many films of the period.

“The photojournalist in Apocalypse Now, played by Dennis Hopper, was based on Page,” said Mesterharm.

Meta House’s founder said the Vietnam War was the first and last war without censorship. With the US military actively encouraging press involvement, Page went everywhere, covering everything.

Page was wounded four times, once by “friendly fire”, and the last, when helping to load the wounded, when he jumped out of a helicopter as the person in front of him stepped on a landmine.

He required extensive neurosurgery and spent most of the 1970s – the period of Lon Nol and later Pol Pot – recovering abroad.

“In the early 1990s, Page returned to Cambodia to document the UNTAC years, which led to the first free elections in Cambodia 1993,” Mesterharm said.

The United Nations Transitional Authority in Cambodia (UNTAC) was the UN’s peacekeeping operation in Cambodia in 1992-93 following the 1991 Paris Peace Accords.

In the following years, Mesterharm said, Page ran workshops in Vietnam and Cambodia. In the aftermath of the Indochina wars, Page followed landmine clearance and the devastating effects of Agent Orange.

From 2010-14, he also documented land titling and social land concessions in Cambodia on behalf of Germany’s international development agency GIZ.

In search of truth

Mesterharm recalled an event during the Pol Pot regime concerning combat photographer Sean Leslie Flynn, who was best known for his coverage of the war in Vietnam and Cambodia, that had a profound effect on Page.

On April 6, 1970, while travelling by motorcycle in Cambodia, Flynn – the only son of Hollywood legend Errol Flynn – and his colleague Dana Stone were captured at a roadblock on Highway One.

Page learnt that his best friend, housemate and fellow photographer Flynn had gone missing in Cambodia while in hospital.

Flynn and Stone were never heard of again and their remains have never been found. The current consensus is that they were held captive for more than a year before being killed by the Khmer Rouge in June 1971.

The documentary Danger on the Edge of Town (1991, 51min, English) follows Page as he seeks to find out what happened to his friend.

“Throughout the 70s and 80s, Page’s mission was to discover the fate and final resting place of his friend and to erect a memorial to all those in the media that were killed or went missing in the war,” said Mesterharm.

This led Page to found the IndoChina Media Memorial Foundation and was the genesis for the book Requiem, now on permanent display at the War Remnants Museum in Ho Chi Minh City.

Page and his friend Horst Faas, photo editor for the Associated Press and a double Pulitzer Prize winner, co-edited the book and commemorated the work of all the dead and missing, from all nations, lost in the 30 years of conflict.

Mesterharm said Page had visited Cambodia before the 1975 takeover by the Khmer Rouge, but did not take photographs in Cambodia at this time.

During the Khmer Rouge rule of 1975-79, Page was recovering from serious injuries, while in the 1980s, the Vietnamese – who occupied Cambodia at the time – did not allow Western photographers in.

Having for decades sought to solve the mystery surrounding the death of his best friend, Cambodia held a special place in Page’s heart, said the Meta House founder.

Despite all the time and money spent, Page was not able to fulfill his mission of discovering what happened to Flynn and Stone, who were presumed killed by the Khmer Rouge in eastern Cambodia in 1971.

However, he found new friends in post-war Cambodia and documented the rebuilding of society, and how it came to terms with the legacy of the three decades of civil war and the Cambodian genocide.

“Meta House feels extremely honoured to be able to present a selection of photos that also reference his gradual change of focus – from thrill-seeking war photographer to staunch anti-war activist,” said Mesterharm.

Meta House is dedicating a film night to Page on Sunday, September 4 at 7:30pm, especially for those wanting to find out more about his work in Cambodia.

The event also marks the closing of the pop-up-exhibition.

Danger on the Edge of Town (1991, 51min) follows photographer Tim Page, who sets out to discover what happened to his friends in Cambodia 20 years previously.

A New Page (2013, 26 min), directed by Mesterharm, documents Tim Page’s last photo project on land rights, including village exhibitions in the Cambodian countryside.


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