At a Glance
“One step on a mine, it’s all over…” photography by the late Taizo Ichinoze, on display through April 7 at the Le Popil Photo Gallery, #126 Street 19. Phone, 012 992 750.
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In the corner of Le Popil gallery in Phnom Penh, a large cloth hangs with the scrawled impressions of hundreds of visitors who have been affected by the images of Taizo Ichinose — Japan’s most famous war photographer.
The messages read everything from “love rules” to “you have captured what war really means.” One states “I’m one of the Cambodian people. I’m so proud to see your work Taizo.”
Ichinose’s photographs, in black and white and color, capture grim battle scenes and conflict from the days of the Khmer Rouge regime. They portray the everyday life of the thousands of Cambodian people who suffered through the brutalities of war. Beautiful in their simplicity, they convey the important elements of Cambodia’s recent history.
Ichinose was a brave, young, foolhardy photojournalist. He spoke openly of his willingness to risk his life for the perfect shot. From March 1972 to November 1973, he was in Cambodia and Vietnam, doggedly tailing the Khmer Rouge and their artillery fire. He often found himself caught in the cross-fire, narrowly dodging bullets and lethal landmines, his iconic Nikon camera scarred by a bullet hole suffered in Saigon in 1972.
Many obstacles prevented Ichinose from achieving his dream of being the first to photograph Angkor Wat during the Khmer Rouge regime. After his first visit to Cambodia, he was blacklisted and forced out of the country. He returned the following year as a boxing teacher and continued his quest to Angkor. But in November 1973 when he finally held Angkor in his sight, Ichinose was gunned down by Pol Pot’s troops. He was 26.
The exhibition at Le Popil is titled “One step on a mine, it’s all over…”, after a passage Ichinose once wrote in a letter, and was designed by French journalist Christine Cibert, who has maintained interest in Ichinose’s work for many years.
“I met Taizo’s niece and talked to her about showing his work for the first time since his death,” said Stephane Janin, owner of Le Popil. “We decided to create the show — shown at Angkor Photo Festival in December in Siem Reap. The show was such a success that we decided to extend it … to take the show back to Phnom Penh because that’s where the Japanese community is.”
“He was a real war photographer … he shared the hard times of the soldiers and the good times. He wrote once that if he had to die for a photograph, he would die.”