Photographing Daunting Democracy and Cambodian Peace

Photo of the Democracy Movement in Tiananmen Square, Beijing, ChinaSUMMER 1989: Jeffrey arrives home safely from Beijing and I count my blessings that he has avoided harm while photographing the Democracy Movement and its grim aftermath.

I can see in his eyes though, that he’s changed by what has transpired; not in ways that others might notice, but in subtle ways–mostly in the intensity of his resolve.

The brutality of the Chinese government lights a fire in his consciousness that later propels him to create a powerful visual testimony of what took place during the massacre (a story that will be chronicled in my book).

That summer, while we both process everything that has happened, we’re happy to have the luxury of multiple uninterrupted weeks together…at least in between doing several photo shoots for Business Week, Rolling Stone and The New York Times. We’re in the same time zone though, and able to have dinner together nearly every night, so we drink in each others’ presence and appreciate the time we have together. We even manage to squeeze in things like hiking and cycling, concerts and movies, just like other couples.

Normalcy helps balance out the underlying sadness and anger we have about all the young, innocent people in China who have been murdered. Life marches on though, and it becomes clear why journalists must move on too; otherwise they would be paralyzed by what they have experienced.

September arrives in the blink of an eye and Jeffrey leaves me amidst the blaze of golden Aspen trees and heads back to Southeast Asia–this time to photograph the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia. The Vietnamese have occupied Cambodia for more than an decade and it’s a cause for pomp and celebration in Phnom Penh when the last soldiers leave.

Photo of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, 1989Photo of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom PehnPhoto of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom PenhPhoto of the withdrawal of the Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom PenhPhoto of Vietnamese soldiers leaving Cambodia in 1989Photo of the Cambodian dancers during the withdrawal of the Vietnamese in 1989Photo of withdrawal of Vietnamese from Cambodia, Phnom Penh

In between this assignment in Cambodia and his next one in China, Jeffrey calls me from Bangkok. My heart melts from the sound of his voice.

It doesn’t take long before he’s telling me some crazy story about sharing a ride across Vietnam to the Cambodian border with three journalists from the Iranian News Service.

Knowing he’s safe and that he’s successfully completed his assignment in Cambodia, it’s impossible for me to repress my laughter when he describes being squished in the back of a tiny, sweltering rattletrap car, suffering through hours of heated conversations with three big Iranians who still consider America the Evil Empire.

“You think that’s bad,” he laughs, “You can’t believe the piece of shit Russian helicopter from the 60’s that I flew in across Cambodia. I thought the thing was going to disintegrate during take off. Parts of it were literally held together with duct tape.”

I have no idea what he’s talking about, but when he begins telling me the details of how a Thai journalist had bribed his way onto the helicopter with a bunch of Vietnamese generals, and had invited Jeffrey to join him so he could save three days of driving to a ceremony for the withdrawal of Vietnam’s military, I can picture it all as though I’m watching a scene from an ill-fated movie.

The barefoot Cambodian pilot. The dripping humidity. The porthole windows. The sickening noise of the rotors straining to lift the aircraft.

I count my blessings that Jeffrey’s story doesn’t end with an explosive crash like most Grade B action movies.

“Needless to say,” Jeffrey sighs, “I’m happy to be back in Bangkok.”

Needless to say, I’m glad he is too.

I also realize at that moment that while this life we’re just beginning together verges on nail-biting insanity, I also know I’m already hopelessly in love with the guy on the other end of the phone.

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13 thoughts on “Photographing Daunting Democracy and Cambodian Peace

  1. As always, your stories are just as vivid as Jeffrey’s photography! I especially love the last line:” I also know I’m already hopelessly in love with the guy on the other end of the phone.” That seems to sum up the deep sacrifices you’ve made (I’m talking long distance and worry, here) for your relationship with Jeffrey. I’m sure that he’s worth all of the anxiety! Can’t wait for more….

    • Jessica, your comments always make me smile. Thank you! Somehow I don’t really feel like I’ve sacrificed much in this relationship. In fact, I feel lucky to be sharing all of life’s adventures with Jeffrey. And while this blog is mostly ALL ABOUT HIM, it’s not “all about him” in our everyday lives. It’s quite balanced. He has always been extremely supportive of me and all my crazy projects, and time-consuming athletic adventures. If it wasn’t 50/50 I wouldn’t be here. I may have a few more gray hairs because of him, but they’re worth it. : -)

  2. These photos are amazing–the colors pop out so vividly–and your story is riveting. I know this happened years ago, but you have me worried for Jeffrey’s safety all the same. And that helicopter. Yikes! I would love to hear more about what you were doing while he was away. Thanks!

    • Jeffrey has always been known for his use of color in his work. This is no exception. I’m glad you appreciate it so much! As far as what I was doing while he was gone–working, working, working and playing, playing, playing. I wasn’t concerned about this project when he left because it was a peaceful celebration. Thankfully I only knew about the helicopter AFTER he was on the ground safe and sound.

  3. These pictures really deserve a place in History books which are under the syllabus of various countries. Only then people like me can change their perception that history is a boring subject.
    Needless to say “Its another wonderful post”. You are really helping us in experiencing the history.

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