Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Camera keeps S-21 victims’ legacy alive

Camera keeps S-21 victims’ legacy alive

Camera keeps S-21 victims’ legacy alive

6 Rolleiflex camera

Thousands of haunting portraits documenting the callous, systematic nature of life in Tuol Sleng prison were taken by a camera, the lens of which would later be turned back on the regime itself.

The relic – a German Rolleiflex model from the 1930s or 1940s – was handed in yesterday to the Documentation Center of Cambodia (DC-Cam).

Ing Veng Eang, whose father Ung Pech was one of the few prisoners to make it out of S-21 alive, gave it to the Khmer Rouge research centre after years in his family’s possession.

He told the Post that he approached DC-Cam after seeing former S-21 photographer Nhem En being interviewed on TV last week.

“I then wanted to find out the history of this camera,” he said.

Pech was an engineer whose life was spared at S-21 thanks to his skills as a mechanic.

His wife and five children, who were moved from Phnom Penh to Battambang, however, died from starvation under the regime, with Veng Eang the only child to survive.

Pech became the first director of the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in 1980, and subsequently used the camera to document Khmer Rouge crimes, including mass graves in the countryside, after reuniting with his son.

“This camera was kept by my father until 1996 when he had to travel to the US for heart surgery. I just kept it in a box and never used it because there was no longer any suitable film. I never thought of the camera’s importance [until now],” Veng Eang said.

He added that after recent alleged comments by acting opposition leader Kem Sokha saying that Tuol Sleng was fabricated, he wanted to add “more evidence” that the torture prison existed.

A trove of documents, photos and even video footage shot by the pair were also handed in yesterday.

After the war, it was “very rare” to get a camera, DC-Cam, Youk Chhang said, and, so, despite its dark provenance, the pair used the Rolleiflex extensively.

“This is called karma. Things come back to you. [The Khmer Rouge] used the camera to take away [their] life . . . and the camera was used to document the crimes committed against [them].”

The significance of the object, which likely bore witness to scenes of brutal torture and suffering, lies in its role as a link between prisoner and oppressor, Chhang said.

“I think of it as having been in between the mind of the photographer and the victim . . . I imagine the sound [the camera made] and i wonder how it would have felt.”

additional reporting by Cheang Sokha

MOST VIEWED

  • New US bill ‘is a violation of Cambodian independence’

    After a US congressmen introduced bipartisan legislation that will enact sanctions on Cambodian officials responsible for “undermining democracy” in the Kingdom, government officials and the ruling Cambodian People’s Party on Sunday said they regarded the potential action as the “violation of independence and sovereignty

  • Angkor Wat named as the top landmark for the second year

    Travel website TripAdvisor has named Cambodia’s ancient wonder Angkor Wat as the top landmark in the world for the second year running in their Travelers’ Choice Award 2018, an achievement Cambodian tourism operators expect will attract more tourists to the Kingdom. The website uses traveller

  • Ministry’s plan for net sparks fears

    The government has ordered all domestic and international internet traffic in the Kingdom to pass through a Data Management Centre (DMC) that has been newly created by the state-owned Telecom Cambodia, in a move some have claimed is an attempt to censor government critics. Spokesman

  • Cambodian women diving deep, going far

    There is a saying in Khmer that “women cannot dive deep or go far”. The meaning is that women should not stray too far from their traditional gender roles. But when Menno de Block, an entrepreneur from the Netherlands, took a good look around his