I arrived in Cambodia on 22nd February 1973 and left on 7th April 1975. How and why did I get here? To cut a long story short, I had already been living in Laos for over 2 years, and it was just a hop to Cambodia.
I was a self-taught English teacher in the days when teaching English had a more romantic aura than it does now. In Laos I found two hobbies to occupy my free time – riding a motorcycle around the countryside, and taking photos. I traveled north from Vientiane to Luang Prabang. It took 3 days. There were many refugee villages hastily built by Hmong and other ethnic minority people fleeing from the random bombing in the north and east. Their homeland was a dumping ground for B52s overflying North Vietnam. The Pentagon had declared it ‘uninhabited territory’, and after a while they were right. After I went to Long Cheng (a “clandestine” CIA military base) for the wedding of General Vang Pao’s niece (by written invitation) and was arrested on arrival by two cowboys, I got the feeling that I was regarded as undesirable by the Americans. Within 2 weeks I had been fired from my job at Lao-American Association. However, a week later I was working for the British International School of Vientiane.
My reasons for leaving Laos were twofold. First, I had discovered Cambodia, met a couple of Americans who were starting a school in Phnom Penh and decided to move there; and secondly, I was quietly deported from Laos, making further deliberation unnecessary.
I took my ‘hobbies’ with me. I had a new Pentax Spotmatic SLR camera and after the first six months being citybound (on a huge Russian bicycle), I got myself a motorbike and started riding around in the countryside taking photos, a selection of which you will find in this website. I could not go very far in any direction because Phnom Penh was surrounded by the Khmer Rouge, and I never went to the front lines. I left that for the journalists, because it was their job. Consequently, my photos were quite different from theirs, and you might call them “snapshots”. I don’t care. They show life – and death – as it was.
For convenience, the photos have been loosely divided into categories. Most of those taken in the city are from 1973, while the majority of countryside photos are from 1974-5. It did not occur to me at the time that they would be of any value, so I did not bother much about documentation. There are no dates written on the nega-holders, and in many cases I do not recollect exactly where the pictures were taken. The film used was often from bulk-loaded stock, mostly Kodak Tri-X (400ASA) and Plus-X (100ASA), but also Fuji Neopan and ‘Safety’, something called ‘Super Pan’ and… Boots Panchromatic! In fact, anything I could get my hands on.