Cambodia condemns Vice for altered Khmer Rouge images

The photos of Khmer Rouge ‘killing fields’ victims with added smiles were an insult to the dead, Cambodia says.

A visitor looks at pictures of victims of the Khmer Rouge regime at the notorious Tuol Sleng former prison [File: Damir Sagol/Reuters]

Cambodia has called on US media group Vice to withdraw an article that featured newly-colourised photographs of victims of the Khmer Rouge, saying the images are an insult to the dead because some had been altered to add smiles.

As of 12:00 GMT on Sunday, the article was no longer available on the website.

In the article published on Friday, artist Matt Loughrey said his project to colourise images from Tuol Sleng, the former school turned into the torture centre known as S-21, aimed to humanise the 14,000 Cambodians tortured and executed by the group. Only seven of those taken to Tuol Sleng survived.

But the article caused a backlash on social media after comparisons with the original black-and-white photos showed that some subjects had smiles added in Loughrey’s colour images. The Vice article did not contain the original images.

“To play around by using technology to put make-up on the victims of S21 …  is a very grave insult to the souls of the victims of #genocide,” exiled Cambodian politician Mu Sochua wrote on Twitter.

John Vink, a photojournalist, said on Twitter: “Matt Loughrey in Vice is not colourising S21 photographs. He is falsifying history.”

Another Twitter user, Cambodia-based journalist E Quinn Libson said: “It’s one thing to do these alterations privately, on request, for a family who lost a loved one. It’s another thing entirely to publish them. What was @VICE even thinking?”

Cambodia’s Ministry of Culture issued a statement calling on Loughrey and Vice to remove the images.

“We urge researchers, artists and the public not to manipulate any historical source to respect the victims,” the ministry said.

Loughrey, who in the Vice interview said he had worked with victims’ families to restore the photos, did not immediately comment.

Correcting the record

Vice on Sunday added an editor’s note before the article later disappeared from the site. The US-based media firm later issued a statement, attributed to the VICE editorial leadership, expressing “regret” over the feature.

“The article included photographs of Khmer Rouge victims that Loughrey manipulated beyond colorization,” it said. “The story did not meet the editorial standards of VICE and has been removed. We regret the error and will investigate how this failure of the editorial process occurred.”

Youk Chhang, director of the Documentation Center of Cambodia, compared the alterations to rewriting history. An online petition demanding the article be removed gained thousands of signatures.

At least 1.7 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge’s rule in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters