Cambodians Demand Apology for Khmer Rouge Images with Smiling Faces

Hundreds of stark black-and-white portraits of terrified people are displayed on large panels in Tuol Sleng, the former Cambodian prison that is now a museum. The portraits stand as a visual symbol of a genocide: The subjects were photographed before they were tortured and put to death under the Khmer Rouge, the fanatical communist regime that, from 1975 to 1979, caused the deaths of at least 1.7 million Cambodians.

Matt Loughrey, an Irish artist who runs a business colorizing old photographs, recently colorized versions of the same portraits found in the prison. In some cases, he altered the images to put smiles on the victims’ faces. In an interview with Mr. Loughrey published last Friday, Vice Media said the colorization was intended to “humanize the tragedy.”

Vice’s publication of the doctored photos caused an outcry from Cambodians worldwide who saw them as a trivialization and desecration of their national tragedy. Vice has since removed the article, but many Cambodians remain shocked by Mr. Loughrey’s treatment of the portraits and have called for an apology.

“The colors do not add humanity to these faces,” said Theary Seng, a survivor of the Khmer Rouge who has written a book about her childhood experiences. “Their humanity is already captured and expressed in their haunting eyes, listless resignation, defiant looks.”

2019 interview with Digital Camera World he said, “I used to answer that question by saying that the brain is designed to see in red, green and blue, which of course it is. However, I think I was attempting to argue or defend this work when really there’s no need to. We either like something or we do not and that’s an essential part of living.”

Mr. Loughrey did not respond to several messages asking for comment on the recent images published by Vice.

The victims in the photographs had been arrested in widespread purges in which the Khmer Rouge leadership, looking for traitors in its midst, devoured itself. Some 18,000 people were imprisoned in Tuol Sleng, by an updated count. Victims were brought blindfolded into prison and the pictures were taken moments after the blindfolds were pulled from their faces.

“Imagine the terror they felt,” said Rithy Panh, an award-winning Cambodian documentary filmmaker whose relatives died at the hands of the Khmer Rouge. “When the Khmer Rouge photographers took off their blindfolds, the first thing the victims saw was the camera and sometimes the flash of the flashbulb. That is the first act of the killing. From that moment on they were only numbers.”

In an interview before he died in 2011, Vann Nath, one of the few survivors of Tuol Sleng, said many of the victims had been starved for a week or beaten before the pictures were taken. Many had never seen a camera before. “These expressions that people empathize with are just pure shock from the flash,” he said.

When journalists and art critics write about the photographs, they tend to focus on the victims’ expression as an indictment of Pol Pot, the leader of the Khmer Rouge, said Mr. Vann Nath. “But this is all in their imagination,” he said. “They have no clue.”

Many of the photographs were taken by Nhem En, a village boy who was chosen at the age of 15 to be an official photographer at Tuol Sleng. He was sent to China to learn photographic techniques and many of his pictures are technically beautiful.

After the Khmer Rouge were driven from power by a Vietnamese invasion, the pictures lay moldering and unattended in drawers inside the prison until 1993. That year, two young photographers, Chris Riley and Douglas Niven, cleaned and archived 6,000 negatives in return for the right to publish 100 of them in a book called The Killing Fields.

Although the photographs were intended as identification mug shots to be attached to the biographies of the prisoners, they have since been presented in different guises, as historical artifacts, as legal evidence and as art.

A selection of 22 of the photographs was exhibited in the Museum of Modern Art in New York in 1997 — perfectly framed and perfectly lit.

Reporting was contributed by Ros Sampoeu in Phnom Penh, Cambodia.

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A Soviet ‘Lord of the Rings’ Is Unearthed, Epic in Its Own Way

Arseny Bulakov, the chairman of the St. Petersburg Tolkien Society, called the production “a very revealing artifact” of its era: “filmed in destitute times, without stage settings, with costumes gathered from acquaintances — and at the same time with great respect for Tolkien and love for his world.”

Mr. Bulakov said it reminded him “of the early years of Tolkienists” in Russia. “Not getting paid for half a year, dressed in old sweaters, they nevertheless got together to talk about hobbits and elves, to rewrite elvish poems by hand, to try to invent what was impossible to truly know about the world.”

Tolkien’s books were hard to find for decades in the Soviet Union, with no official translation of “The Hobbit” until 1976 — “with a few ideological adaptations,” according to Mark Hooker, the author of “Tolkien Through Russian Eyes.” But the “Rings” trilogy was “essentially banned” for decades, he said, perhaps because of its religious themes or the depiction of disparate Western allies uniting against a sinister power from the East.

In 1982, an authorized and abridged translation of “Fellowship” became a best seller, Mr. Hooker said. Translators started making unofficial, samizdat versions in the years that followed — translating and typing out the entire text on their own.

“Khraniteli” was broadcast at a moment of “great systemic turmoil” as the Soviet Union was dismantled, and part of “the flood of ideas that rushed in to fill the vacuum,” Mr. Hooker said. “For the average Russian, the world had turned upside-down.”

Irina Nazarova, an artist who saw the original broadcast in 1991, told the BBC that in retrospect, the “absurd costumes, a film devoid of direction or editing, woeful makeup and acting — it all screams of a country in collapse.”

Mr. Hooker compared the production itself to a samizdat translation, “with all the rough edges.” Among them are wobbling cameras, as though the hobbits were filming their journey with a camcorder, and sudden cuts to a narrator who, smoking a pipe or smiling silently, sometimes seems content to leave his audience in the dark.

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France Has ‘Overwhelming’ Responsibility for Rwanda Genocide, Report Says

PARIS — Blinded by its fears of losing influence in Africa and by a colonial view of the continent’s people, France remained close to the “racist, corrupt and violent regime’’ responsible for the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and bears “serious and overwhelming” responsibilities, according to a report released Friday.

But the report — commissioned by President Emmanuel Macron in 2019 and put together by 15 historians with unprecedented access to French government archives — cleared France of complicity in the genocide that led to the deaths of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis and contributed to decades of conflicts and instability in Central Africa.

“Is France an accomplice to the genocide of the Tutsi? If by this we mean a willingness to join a genocidal operation, nothing in the archives that were examined demonstrates this,’’ said the report, which was presented to Mr. Macron on Friday afternoon.

But the commission said that France had long been involved with Rwanda’s Hutu-led government even as that government prepared the genocide of the Tutsis, regarding the country’s leadership as a crucial ally in a French sphere of influence in the region.

Paul Kagame, the Tutsi leader who has controlled Rwanda for nearly a quarter century.

Mr. Macron, who has spoken of his desire to reset France’s relations with a continent where it was a colonial power, is believed to have commissioned the report to try to improve relations with Rwanda.

Though the 992-page report presents fresh information from the French government archives, it is unlikely to resolve the debate over France’s role during the genocide, said Filip Reyntjens, a Belgian expert on the genocide.

“This will not be good enough for one side, and it won’t be good enough for the other side,’’ Mr. Reyntjens said. “So my guess is that this will not settle the issue.’’

According to the report, François Mitterrand, the French president at the time, maintained a “strong, personal and direct relationship’’ with Juvenal Habyarimana, the longtime Hutu president of Rwanda, despite his “racist, corrupt and violent regime.’’

Mr. Mitterrand and members of his inner circle believed that Mr. Habyarimana and the Hutus were key allies in a French-speaking bloc that also included Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, known then as Zaire.

The French saw Mr. Kagame and other Tutsi leaders — who had spent years in exile in neighboring Anglophone Uganda — as allies in an American push into the region.

“The principal interest of this country for France is that it be francophone,’’ a high-ranking military official wrote in 1990, according to the report, which concluded: “France’s interpretation of the Rwandan situation can be viewed through the prism of defending la Francophonie.’’

French leaders at the time viewed the Hutus and Tutsis through a colonial lens, ascribing to each group stereotypical physical traits and behavior, compounding their misinterpretation of the events that led to the genocide, according to the report.

In one of the report’s most damning conclusions, its authors wrote, “The failure of France in Rwanda, the causes of which are not all its own, can be likened in this respect to a final imperial defeat, all the more significant because it was neither expressed nor acknowledged.’’

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