‘FOUND Cambodia’, just like so many other creative, successful projects, began through a happenstance. The creator and compiler of ‘FOUND Cambodia’, Charles Fox, happened to be in the Vietnamese Lao and Cambodian Refugee Centre in Hackney, East London, on the same day as a man named Yanny. The two men began to converse and in the course of their chats; Yanny showed Charles some old photographs of his. Charles, who at the time was studying photojournalism at the University of the Arts London, and with years’ of experience of living in Cambodia, was immediately fascinated by Yanny’s pictures. Who were the people in them; when had the images been taken; what were they telling about the larger forces shaping the Khmer society at the time?
The inquiries elicited by Yanny’s pictures had begun to brew. So when Charles returned to Cambodia, settling in Phnom Penh to work as a documentary photographer, he actively started to seek out old photographs his friends, acquaintances and even good-willed strangers might want to show and share with him. What began to emerge from these initially scattered, single shots was a narrative depicting the dramatic changes Cambodia has witnessed since the fall of the Khmer Rouge regime. But not just that; people’s family photographs, portraits, images shot as a memento of a beautiful day spent with a friend weave together into a historical narrative that is intimate and personal. How the Cambodians rebuilt their society after four fatal years of consummate destruction reflects in the present in a myriad of ways. Yet how that process unfolded and, moreover, how that process was both shaped and experienced by Khmer citizens is less easy to uncover. The photographs in this archive testify to Cambodian socio-cultural landscape and the enormous changes it has witnessed through the eyes of an individual. They tell stories of women’s and men’s fashion; they point to the motorcycle brands available in the country at a given time; they speak of the different NGOs that flooded the country after the 1980s; they indicate to different styles of portraiture. They speak of people’s happiness and sorrows alike.
This archive is continuously growing. It comprises images that have been lent to Charles to photograph; the originals are all with their rightful owners, back in the albums and drawers they came from. ‘FOUND Cambodia’ invites the public to view and examine Cambodia’s recent history as it has been documented in and through the vernacular. It is an archive that hopes to serve curious minds and inquisitive eyes as much as it wants to be of help to researchers in search of primary sources. It is not a display of curios, but a dynamic, expanding visual narrative that brings to the surface the voices and gazes of those who are products of the very history this archive probes into.