S21 (Tuol Sleng)

S21 used to be a high school which was taken over by the Khmer Rouge regime from 1975-1979. The school was secretly used as an interrogation and torture facility in which an estimated 14,000 people were tortured and killed. Every prisoner that was in this facility was made to write a confession and had their photo taken. Some before and after being tortured to death.

The point of this school was to find and kill all intellectuals and their family members. Anybody from a doctor to a mechanic to a photographer was killed. The goal of Khmer Rouge was to create a utopian communist society by eliminating anyone who would question authority.

Entering the school is a strange feeling. It’s a stark contrast of peace and hell. As you enter you immediately see a row of big trees brimming with beautiful white flowers with birds chirping then suddenly torture devices, chambers and cells.

I suppose it’s the fact that I love photography, particularly portraits that I felt so moved by the portraits of every prisoner. Far more than the gruesome photos of dead bodies and paintings displaying the forms of torture used. Looking into the eyes of these prisoners made me feel pain. Seeing their expressions ranging from apathetic to desperation I could almost feel it their pain just by looking at it.


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