The photos of Khmer Rouge ‘killing fields’ victims with added smiles were an insult to the dead, Cambodia says.
Cambodia has called on US media group Vice to withdraw an article featuring newly colourised photos of Khmer Rouge “killing fields” victims, saying the images were an insult to the dead because some mugshots had been altered to add smiles.
At 12:00 GMT on Sunday, the article was no longer available on the Vice.com website.
In the article published on Friday, artist Matt Loughrey said his project to colourise images from the notorious Tuol Sleng prison, or S-21, aimed to humanise the 14,000 Cambodians executed and tortured there.
However, the article caused a backlash on social media after comparisons with the original black-and-white photos showed that some subjects were smiling only 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.
To play around by using technology to put make-up on the victims of S21 or the Cambodian #Auchwitz is unacceptable and must be stopped. It is a very grave insult to the souls of the victims of #genocide . https://t.co/HtnKG4Lmlq
— MuSochua (@sochua_mu) April 10, 2021
John Vink, a photojournalist, said on Twitter: “Matt Loughrey in Vice is not colourising S21 photographs. He is falsifying history.”
Another Twitter user, 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.
“It has been brought to our attention that the restored portraits published in this article were modified beyond colorization. We are reviewing the article and considering further actions to correct the record,” it said.
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 in the Khmer Rouge’s rule in Cambodia from 1975 to 1979.
Matt Loughrey in Vice is not colourising S21 photographs. He is falsifying history: pic.twitter.com/z6J99J7BOE
— John Vink (@vinkjohn) April 10, 2021