Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Stock photo company apologises for offering S-21 inmate photos for sale

Stock photo company apologises for offering S-21 inmate photos for sale

Cham women view a display of prisoner intake photos at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A stock photo company on Monday apologised for offering S-21 prisoner photos for sale. AFP
Cham women view a display of prisoner intake photos at the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum. A stock photo company on Monday apologised for offering S-21 prisoner photos for sale. AFP

Stock photo company apologises for offering S-21 inmate photos for sale

An international stock photo company has apologised for selling the rights to prisoner intake photos from Phnom Penh’s infamous Khmer Rouge-era S-21 torture centre, with a company representative saying he was unaware of restrictions on the images’ use and that he was “very sorry if this has caused distress”.

The companies’ sale of the images first came to light last Thursday after regional publication Mekong Review called attention to UK-based photo company Alamy and US-based Sprague Photo Stock selling the digital rights to dozens of photographs from inside the walls of S-21, including portraits of individual prisoners.

For many Cambodian families, these portraits are the only clue linking them to the eventual fate of their loved ones. Nearly all those who entered S-21, also known as Tuol Sleng, never saw freedom again. By the end of the regime, most were taken to Choeung Ek to be killed. That the companies would seek to profit from this tragic history – and the fact that the rights to the photos actually belong to the Cambodian government – raised ethical questions surrounding their use among observers.

As of Friday, both companies appeared to be in the process of removing these photos from their websites – likely in response to inquiries from The Post. At the time that story ran, the companies had not responded to multiple requests for comment.

On Monday, Sean Sprague, of the Sprague Photo Stock library, apologised via email for offering the photos for sale.

I am the "guilty party" who took those photos at Tuol Sleng some ten years ago. I had no idea at the time that there were restrictions as to their use, and thus some of them were placed in my photo stock library as well as at Alamy photo stock.

I am very sorry if this has caused distress and that now there is a "conversation taking place and gaining traction" around this issue, in Cambodia.

I want to say first of all that I have the deepest respect for the Cambodian people and what they have been through during the years of the Khmer Rouge. I have been visiting the country many times since 1966 when I made my first visit, and the last thing I would want to do is cause any offence. By including those photos on my website I was more intent on drawing attention to those terrible years.

But I understand now that it is a copyright issue and that I had no right to try to "sell" those images on a photo stock website, without the express permission of Tuol Sleng museum.

The photographs have now been withdrawn, as you noticed, so I hope this is the end of the matter.

Sean Sprague was not the only photographer credited with such prisoner images on Alamy’s website. Alamy has yet to issue a response of its own.

MOST VIEWED

  • Research key to Kanitha’s rep for expertise

    Sok Kanitha is used to weighing in on controversial issues using a confident approach that signals expertise and authority, and a recent video she made was no exception. Her “Episode 342: The History of NATO” video went live on January 16, 2023 and immediately shot to 30,000 likes and 3,500

  • Cambodia maintains 'Kun Khmer' stance despite Thailand’s boycott threat

    Cambodia has taken the position that it will use the term "Kun Khmer" to refer to the sport of kickboxing at the upcoming Southeast Asian (SEA) Games, and has removed the term Muay from all references to the sport. Despite strong reactions from the Thai

  • Knockout! Kun Khmer replaces ‘Muay’ for Phnom Penh Games

    Cambodia has decided to officially remove the word Muay from the programme of the 32nd Southeast Asian (SEA) Games 2023 in May. “Kun Khmer” will instead be used to represent the Southeast Asian sport of kickboxing, in accordance with the wishes of the Cambodian people. Vath

  • Artificial insemination takes herd from 7 to 700

    Some farms breed local cows or even import bulls from a broad for the purpose of breeding heavier livestock for meat production. One Tbong Khnum farmer has found a more efficient way. Hout Leang employs artificial insemination to fertilise local cows. Thanks to imported “straws”

  • Chinese group tours return to Cambodia starting Feb 6

    Cambodia is among 20 countries selected by Beijing for a pilot programme allowing travel agencies to provide international group tours as well as flight and hotel packages to Chinese citizens, following a three-year ban. As the days tick down until the programme kicks off on February 6,

  • Capital-Poipet express rail project making headway

    The preliminary results of a feasibility study to upgrade the Phnom Penh-Poipet railway into Cambodia’s first express railway indicate that the project would cost more than $4 billion and would take around four years to complete. The study was carried out by China Road and