Cambodia criticises Vice over images of Khmer Rouge victims altered by Irish artist

Media outlet removes article where smiles were added to the faces of some victims

Black and white photographs of prisoners of the Khmer Rouge regime in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located  where the S-21 prison once was. Photograph: Omar Havana/Getty

Black and white photographs of prisoners of the Khmer Rouge regime in the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, located where the S-21 prison once was. Photograph: Omar Havana/Getty

 

Cambodian authorities have criticised the Vice media organisation after featuring photos of victims of the Khmer Rouge genocide, which were digitally altered by an Irish artist.

Last Friday Vice published an interview with Matt Loughrey, a Mayo-based artist, who is working to restore and colourise images of victims at a notorious prison used by the Khmer Rouge during the 1970s. Smiles were added to the faces of a small number of victims.

The article caused a backlash on social media after comparisons with the original black and white photos showed some subjects were smiling only in Loughrey’s colour images. The Vice article did not contain the original images.

Vice removed the article over the weekend and released a statement on Sunday stating that some of the images has been “manipulated beyond colourisation”.

“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,” the statement added.

Cambodia’s ministry of culture said the altered images affected “the dignity of the victims” and called on Vice to remove them.

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

Mr Loughrey declined to comment when contacted by The Irish Times.

However, in the original Vice article, Loughrey said he had wanted to humanise the victims.

‘Huge response’

He said the project had seen a “huge response” and he was talking with museum authorities about making the images accessible to everyone.

When asked by Vice magazine about the smiles, he said women appeared to smile more than the men in the photos he had seen.

“I think a lot of that has to do with nervousness,” he said. “Also – and I’m making an educated guess – whoever was taking the photographs and who was present in the room might have spoken differently to the women than they did the men.”

The article did not reference smiles being added to the photographs.

When some of the original images were posted on social media alongside the colourised versions, it resulted in a volley of criticism in Cambodia.

Exiled Cambodian politician Mu Sochua said the images were a “grave insult”.

Loughrey is the founder of My Colorful Past, an image restoration studio based in Co Mayo, which focuses on “bridging a gap between history and art”.

His work has been featured in National Geographic and has involved restoring and colourising images ranging from the “death mask” of King Henry VII to participants in the Irish War of Independence.