Found Cambodian family portraits

From the series, Found Cambodia

It can be argued, fairly strongly I believe, that the social history of the 20th Century is held within the family photo album.

These precious memories are often lost to us for one reason or another - but even when removed from the hands of the people whose lives they portray, there is a wealth of information to be had for anyone caring to look hard enough.

Of course, one picture without any background information will not tell us much - but if you gather enough together, you do begin to open a small crack into the past.

Photographer Charles Fox is based in Cambodia, and earlier this year he began to collect family pictures he had found in that country, publishing them to Tumblr and his twitter account.

But the idea, he reveals, first came to him in London, when he met a Cambodian man called Yanny at a celebration of the 2009 Khmer New Year.

"We have been great friends ever since," says Fox.

"Yanny used to show me his old photographs of life in Cambodia after the fall of the Khmer Rouge, he would tell me how his family moved back into Phnom Penh, and how society started to rebuild itself, all of this whilst flicking through his worn family photo albums illustrating his point."

Fox promised Yanny that on his return to Cambodia he would continue to look for old family portraits and to document their stories, copying pictures held in family albums and obtaining a comment or two when he could.

He says: "The problem with prints is they are finite, most I come across are damaged - either through bleaching in the sun, or moisture has caused the plastic holders to stick to the emulsion.

"It's not just the prints that are disintegrating, it's the memories too, dates, times and locations are fading.

"The project has a very specific aim, document as many of these pictures as I can from 1979 to the current day and through photography build a catalogue of social and cultural development and change. Like I said, I made a promise."

Here's a selection of the work found so far, alongside a comment from the owner of the picture.

From the series, Found Cambodia 1989: "My sister practised karate on the roof of our apartment as it was too crowded to practise in the street."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1984: "The pictures were joined together by my husband."
From the series, Found Cambodia Fox: "A 1980s Polaroid - first one I have come across in Cambodia and still in reasonable condition."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1990: "My young sister in front of the Royal Palace, the photographer had the umbrella as a prop."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1985: Thai Border camp - "We wore the same clothes, Thai style. There was nothing else, we did not have our own style."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1980s: "My first ID after the Khmer Rouge."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1988: "When I became a solider, I had this picture made at Angkor Wat."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1986: "There was just black and white [photography]. If we wanted in colour, we could get them painted."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1999: A 90s style explosion - Tep Phan Studio, Phnom Penh
From the series, Found Cambodia 1983: "We made photographs as souvenirs of our friendship."
From the series, Found Cambodia 1983: "I brought my wife and son to the studio. I wanted one picture just with my son."
Phil Coomes Article written by Phil Coomes Phil Coomes Picture editor

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