I have first travelled to Cambodia from Vietnam in 1992. The UNTAC mission in Cambodia started that year and the UN police and military personnels in addition to a number of civilians were highly present in the country. Forty five countries were participating in that mission that lasted a year. The mission of the UNTAC (United Nation Transitional Administration Cambodia) was supposed to be the one of implementing the Paris Peace Accord and to put an end to the conflict that raged for decades in the impoverished country. At the border I had to go through UN check for passport and custom although it was easy and pleasant.
However violence was still going on and abuse of human rights and the war between the government and the Khmer Rouges continued. The mission of the UNTAC was also of disarming the conflicting parties which, according to some, did not succeed.
I decided to travel to the ruins of Angkor through the northern road which was not the one normally used by people to go to Siamrep from capital Phnom Pen. The road was in a bad shape and passed through areas not fully in government control. I counted on the UN presence for some degree of safety. There were no public transport that would go all the way. Some trucks loaded with goods and passengers plied part of the road as far as Kampong Thom which it took me three days to reach from Phnom Penh. From there another 90 Km of very bad road that could be negotiated only on a back of a scooter. Scooters were the only means of transport from there on unless one counted water buffalo carts or bicycles.
I travelled with a young American like me thirsty for adventure. When we reached Kampong Thom we came across an American and a French UNTAC observers . Both were military personnel in their respective countries. I suppose they were lieutenants or at least majors. As a matter of fact they have told us but I can’t remember. They advice us not to continue as the road could get very dangerous at nights as the Indonesian army, which has a contingent of soldiers there in charge of the area, did not patrol after dark. The town did not have any accommodation for travelers like us and the two observers offered a floor to crash in their rooms and a free dinner at the Indonesian camp. They were happy to talk to us and tell us about their mission, within the permissible. Through them I found out about a killing fields just west of the town where human bones were amassed in a few places behind a stream which we had to cross if we wanted to see those places. I had to wade through water up to my chest almost with my cameras held up in my two hands. We finally reached the first place with the help of a local who took us there with his scooter for a small fee. I had to be fast thou and get back to the town before dark as the area was not safe. I had time to take a few pictures of this little known places where hundreds if not thousands Cambodians died by the hands of the Khmer Rouge.
The negatives was somehow ruined. Not sure if it happened during the process or later own. I am trying to restore some batches of negatives that have never seen the light of day…..meaning I have never printed any pictures out of them.
In those days I mostly use my Nikon F 3 and a Nikon FE 2 (My very first SLR camera).
The film of this image is a Kodak Plus X 125 ASA rated at 100 ASA.
I have always considered myself a documentary photography sort of photographer. Not sure when I first came across this word but since then the word has stuck on me and I started calling myself as such.
According to Wikipedia, documentary photography is a form of photography that depicts scenes “relevant to history and historical events as well as everyday life” (quote). In a nutshell is documenting history with images whether of events or simply ordinary people daily life. I have always been fond of this kind of photography as for me the camera has always been the tool to record moments that has passed before my eyes and that for some not always explainable reasons I deemed worth freezing on film, and, for the last ….ten years?, in digital format.
I do like the immediacy of digital as well as the precision and wide dynamic range in which it records information. However I still find the use of the old emulsions, whether in negative or positive form, much more appealing to my aesthetic sense. The far greater challenge in recording a good image by using the old fashion anagogic system I must admit add more charm to what I see as a final result. Yes, I do believe is far more difficult to create a good photograph with film then digital. This also in light of the fact that digital can easily be manipulated, or adjusted, with a computer and a powerful software for which the market offers many.
But whether is digital or film it does’t really matter at this point. When I started my career, which was fueled by a great passion I had for the medium, film was the only choice and therefore much of the work I have done as a professional photographer, meaning that I make my living out of it, was accomplished with films. At this point I am starting to sort lots of material that in great part has been laying there, but well preserve to large extent, for years without I had time or willingness to start to organize it. I suppose the time has come to do that.
I am sure it won’t be too soon that this blog will be filled with images, old and new, and perhaps some stories that I related to those. But the fact I am writing something about is somewhat encouraging.
So please stay tuned and I will see that I will not only be the one who will enjoy what I have been doing for much of my adult life in the realm of documenting life with my cameras.