University of Minnesota
Center for Holocaust & Genocide Studies


Cambodian Genocide

These photos were exhibited at The Frederick Weisman  Museum of Art, University of Minnesota, Spring, 2001.

Facing Death: Portraits from Cambodia's Killing Fields

An Exhibition of the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University and the Photo Archive Group September 19 - November 7, 1997

facing death title photo


Facing Death: Portraits from the Killing Fields

In April 1975, the Communist forces of the Khmer Rouge, led by Pol Pot, began a brutal four-year regime in Cambodia.  The human costs of this revolution were horrific. According to conservative estimates a million people --or one in seven of the country's population--died from starvation, malnutrition and misdiagnosed or mistreated illness.  Another 200,000 were executed as enemies of the state.

S-21 was a secret prison operated by the Pol Pot regime in the capital city of Phnom Penh from mid-1975 through the end of 1978.  Individuals accused of treason, along with their families, were brought to S-21 where they were photographed upon arrival. They were tortured until they confessed to whatever crime their captors charged them with, and then executed.  The prisoners' photographs and completed confessions formed dossiers that were submitted to Khmer Rouge authorities, so that proof of the elimination of "traitors" was established.  Of the 14,200 people imprisoned at S-21, which held between 1,000 and 1,500 at any one time, only 7 are know to have survived. 

After Phnom Penh was liberated by the Vietnamese Army in 1979, S-21 was transformed into The Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. An archive was established to preserve the approximately 6,000 black and white negatives and 20,000 pages of written documentary materials found at the prison. The photographic archive was cleaned, catalogued and printed in 1994 by the Photo Archive Group, a non-profit organization founded by Chris Riley and Doug Niven. When the two American photographers discovered the negatives in an old cabinet at the museum, they recognized that these powerful images warranted  viewing by a larger, international audience, and that they served as a primary documentary trace of a terrible passage in the history of twentieth century genocides.  One hundred negatives were  selected for final printing, many of which are reproduced in the 1996 book The Killing Fields published by Twin Palms.

Due to the chaos surrounding the discovery of S-21, many of the inmates photographs were separated form their dossiers, rendering them anonymous. The majority of the people pictured in this exhibition are therefore unidentified by name. Those who have been identified are noted in the captions beneath their pictures. All the photographs are gelatin silver prints. 

The Photo Archive Group's work in Cambodia benefited from the generous help of numerous organizations and individuals, including Robert Bingham, Michael Perkins, Jeff Apostolou, Mark Norris, Don Riley, David Chandler, Sara Colm, Peter Maguire, The Indochina Media Memorial Fund, Calumet Holdings Inc., The Saunders Group, Light Impressions, The Lucius and Eva Eastman Fund, the Cambodian Ministry of Culture and the staff of the Tuol Sleng Museum. The exhibition Facing Death: Portraits From Cambodia's Killing Fields, is toured by the Photographic Resource Center at Boston University in collaboration with the Photo Archive Group.

The Photographic Resource Center would like to extend thanks for their time and assistance to Neil Gordon and James Leiteh at Ardon Vinyl Graphics; Ascensins Press, Spectrum Color Labs, Steven Sheffield, and Kurt Dassel of the Government Department at Harrard University.  Many thanks to the entire PRC Staff and Work Study team, in particular Elena Houghton, Erica Kesel, and Gabriel Woods.  Great appreciation is extended to Robert Seydel for his support and commitment.  Special gratitude to Chris Riley for working so closely with us on this important exhibition.

Voices from S-21

Break them with the pressure of propaganda or break them with torture. Don't allow them to die; don't allow the to deteriorate to the point where it's no longer possible to question them. --Interrogator's Manual

I had him pay respect to me. I told him that if I asked him to say a single word to me, he had to say it. --Interrogator

I spoke about the discipline of the office (S-21) and I told him that his body, tied up with fetters and handcuffs, was worth less than garbage.

I am lying here waiting to die, reciting slogans: long live Marxism-Leninism-Mao Zedong thought! Long live comrade (Pol Pot)! Long live the Communist Party of Kampuchea! --Prisoner Keo Meas, a veteran revolutionary

I was lazy at accomplishing my work. I boasted a lot about my assignments. I made other soldiers ruin the harvest; I stole fruit; I praised the old society. -- Prisoner Lone Noeun, a 27-year old soldier describing his "crimes"

To view reproduced images of prisoners at S-21 Prison,

Enter Here

Previous International exhibitions schedules handled by PAG:

December 2, 1995 - January 14, 1996
Zurich Museum of Design, Switzerland

June 5, 1997 - July 6, 1997
Australian Centre for Photography, Sydney, Australia

July 5, 1997 - August 30, 1997
Rencontres Internationales de la Photographie, Arles, France

March 25, 1998 - July 12, 1998
Parc de la Villette, Paris

Contact Information

Ingrid Trinkunas
Coordinator of Programs and Administration
Photographic Resource Center
Tel: 617-353-0700
Fax: 617-353-1662

Chris Riley
Photo Archive Group
215 West Palm Avenue, Suite 205
El Segundo, California  90245
Tel: 917 295-8999