Dith Pran – Out of the Killing Fields
I went to Cambodia in 1986, on an assignment given to me by Kathy Ryan of the New York Times Sunday magazine to photograph Dith Pran and Haing Ngor.
My assignment coincided with Diane Sawyer who was doing an ABC news piece on Dith Pran and Haing Ngor returning to Cambodia after filming the movie “The Kiling Fields.” It was the first time Pran had returned to his country, and it was still a bit dangerous because there were still Khmer Rouge in the countryside.
Pran grew up near Angkor Wat and as a young man had been a tour guide, when he met Sidney Schanberg, the New York Times reporter, whom he worked for as a translator and fixer.
Schanberg was eventually forced to leave the country, but while he won a Pulitzer for his coverage, Pran became a virtual slave of the Khmer Rouge in a death camp. Dith Pran watched the country descend into the hell known as the killing fields, but was able to survive from 1975 until 1979 during the time when a third of the population was killed. Pran later said, “Only the silent survived.”
Eventually Schanberg found Pran in a refugee camp and brought him back to New York and helped him to immigrate to the United States where Pran became a photographer for the New York Times.
Pran and I became friends after our time in Cambodia so after he retired from the New York Times, we returned to Siem Reap. It was moving to be with him as he returned to his country and revisited his family. While there, we visited nearby Angkor Wat. I was so struck at the magnificence of this temple complex, I planned to come back and photograph it as soon as I had the opportunity. Years later, I went back and photographed Angkor Wat on assignment for National Geographic.
Haing Ngor, who played Pran in the movie, “The Killing Fields,” won an Oscar for his role. Tragically, Ngor who was a doctor in real life, was murdered in Los Angeles during a robbery.