Sutton, Eva

Eva Sutton, New York, USA

Dark Dream: Picturing Cambodia


During the Vietnam War, the United States military began a relentless campaign of carpet-bombing over Cambodia, decimating many thousands of Cambodians. The fledging Khmer Rouge insurgents, hiding in the jungle at the time, were radicalized to the extreme. At the end of the war, the Khmer Rouge began their campaign to bring Cambodia back to an agrarian culture of subsistence farming. In 1979 Cambodians were told that it was the "Year Zero", a new beginning with no past and no future. It was the beginning of the Killing Fields.

Although it has stabilized somewhat as a nation and is finally beginning genocide tribunals, the past still casts a long shadow over Cambodia, with perpetrators and surviving victims living side by side.  Social, psychological, political, and environmental decimation remains much in evidence. The ravages of countless bombings and thousands of mine fields still leave their mark, even today. Extreme poverty is a matter of course. This is a land of extraordinary suffering, darkness and death.

Despite the terrible hardships, a palpable gentleness pervades daily activities. Kindness, and Buddhist tranquility abound. Myriads of small shrines house offerings to ghosts, ancestors, ancient spirits and gigantic, sacred trees. Ruined temples sit silent, overgrown and magical, like hallucinations in the jungle.

Cambodia, it seems, is a place where contradictions abound. Every moment I am there, a feeling of desperate absurdity wells up inside me, mixed with sadness and compassion. It is this complex, irreconcilable conflict of hope and loss, which has motivated me to develop a series of projects about this place.

My current work, DARK DREAM, is a body of photographs, in the form of diptychs, taken in Cambodia over the course of three summers during 2004, 2005 and 2006. The diptych format was chosen to construct a visual continuum where each panel functions as part of a larger, juxtaposed narrative. All source images were shot digitally, with various Canon DSLRs during the summers of 2004-2006 and are now being printed as digital C-prints.

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