Sitting at a table on the rooftop lounge at Meta House, Tim Page reflects on the many visits he has made to Cambodia over the years.
The renowned photojournalist, whose photos of the Vietnam War are featured in an ongoing display at Meta House, first came to Cambodia on a holiday in 1964.
It was a time when Phnom Penh was much more laid back, and tourists were scarce at Angkor Wat. In fact, during his 10-day stay, Page recalls there were only four tourists.
“It was very funny to be there,” he says in hindsight.
Back in Phnom Penh, the then 19-year-old found himself staying in a room on Monivong Avenue.
“Within six hours of being in the room, a young woman moved in with me. It’s a predicament you quite have to accept,” Page says with a smile.
In those days, Page says he didn’t see much evidence of a military presence wherever he traveled in the country. And there simply wasn’t any sign of the problems boiling under the surface that eventually culminated into a long, drawn out conflict.
“I thought (Cambodia) was totally idyllic,” he said.
In 1968, Page unofficially visited Cambodia twice as a photojournalist with U.S. Special Forces troops on cross-border raids from Vietnam.
The crazed photographer portrayed by Dennis Hopper in the film “Apocalypse Now” was in part inspired by Page’s persona.
Page was present at a screening of “Apocalypse Now” before its release. Those in attendance included the film’s director Francis Ford Coppola and Michael Herr, author of “Dispatches,” an account of Herr’s observations as a war correspondent during the Vietnam War.
“As soon as Hopper came on the screen, Michael turned to me and said ‘You’ve finally made it to the silver screen’,” Page recalls with a chuckle.
Page received shrapnel wounds on more than one occasion while taking photos of the war in Vietnam. In April 1969, he took some shrapnel in his head after helping load wounded U.S. soldiers into a helicopter.
The 64-year-old’s slow body movements are evidence of his wartime injuries and arthritis that developed in later years.
“My body is very damaged,” Page says about what prompted him to move from the cool climate of his native UK to his current home in Brisbane, Australia, where he teaches photojournalism at Griffith University.
The Search for Sean Flynn
Page makes several references to Sean Flynn, a close friend and fellow photojournalist who was captured by the Vietcong in Cambodian territory in 1970.
Flynn was captured along with colleague Dana Stone before the two were murdered.
It’s believed that the two were handed over to the Khmer Rouge where they met their deaths before being buried in the Cambodian village of Bei Met. Page attempted to discover Flynn’s fate throughout the 1970s and 80s before the graves of what were believed to contain the bodies of Flynn and Stone were found in 1990.
Page is working on a plan for an exhibition next year — hopefully in Phnom Penh — featuring photos taken by Flynn and other photojournalists who went missing in action. The planned exhibition would mark the 40th anniversary of Flynn’s disappearance.
“It would be a homage to their work,” Page says.