Sokphea Young, 2023. "Visual Citizenship in Cambodia: From Apocalypse to Visual “Political Emancipation”", Citizens of Photography: The Camera and the Political Imagination, Christopher Pinney, The PhotoDemos Collective, Naluwembe Binaisa, Vindhya Buthpitiya, Konstantinos Kalantzis, Ileana L. Selejan, Sokphea Young
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The chapter opens with an autobiographical account that entangles the absence and presence of media with Cambodia's political history. The historical scarcity of photography in Cambodia is documented. The proliferation of images is a recent phenomenon. The Khmer Rouge genocide coded photographs as signs of bourgeois identity and led to the burying of many photographs. Photographs remain politically charged in the present, their talismanic and magical properties being recognized by both government supporters and protestors. However, photographic effects are paradoxical: they proliferate the presence of the ruler but also render his distributed personhood vulnerable to defacement by hostile citizens. Current digital practices may seem to proffer the utopia of “borderless” images but in practice open the citizenry to state surveillance. Photography emerges as a key facilitator of the current authoritarian regime's reworking of the Khmer Rouge's “Angkar,” the “pineapple eyes” metaphor that underpins obedience to the state.