Tuol Sleng Portraits

Take a look at these images.

If you’ve never seen them before what do you think is going on? Mug shots maybe or perhaps communist area portraits from some far away Asian country back in the day.

Well they are portraits of prisoners at Tuol Sleng Prison in Cambodia taken just before the people where executed by the Khmer Rouge.

There’s something utterly compelling about them once you know this.

There’s the disturbing nature of how many of the images are so well composed, as if the photographer was more interested in framing than humanity. But then again what else could they do? The chances of saving the condemned must have been nil at this point.

Then there are the looks on the faces. Less a fear than a blank resignation, as if they can’t quite believe what is happening to them. Or believe it only to well and have just given up.

Pictures of young mothers still holding their babies and young boys too young to understand what death means are particularly harrowing.

I saw them many years ago while doing a photo class at ICP in NYC and just came across them today on the very excellent ‘American Suburbia X’ site.

I think they are among the most powerful images I’ve ever seen and a warning to the world of what happens when fanaticism and ideology run wild.

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