Matt Loughrey, an Irish digital artist and retoucher behind My Colorful Past, faced strong criticism since the publication in April 2021 in Vice Asia of his edited pictures of the prisoners from Tuol Sleng prison in Cambodia.
It is estimated that some 18,000 people were tortured and killed in the prison during that period. Loughrey is accused of editing the historic photographs of prisoners to include smiling expressions for the Vice article.
The first petition published on change.org can be found below and led to the removal of the article by Vice Asia and later on but their apology.
VICE News recently ran an article on photos from the S21 Tuol Sleng prison that were recently colourized and re-digitized by Matt Loughrey to add in happy facial expressions. As stated by the National Cambodian Heritage and Killing Fields Museum, «This was done without the consent of family members who lost loved ones in the prison, [or of] other Cambodian community organizations who are involved in this work. The Tuol Sleng / S21 prison camps imprisoned thousands of Cambodian civilians including children and elders who were subjected to torture, hunger, pain, and to their eventual violent deaths [. . .] In 1979, four years after the prison was opened at the start of the Khmer Rouge regime, only 7 prisoners survived out of the many thousands who were [imprisoned there].»
We reject Mr Loughrey’s attempt to profit and benefit from the traumas of our history.
«Minimizing the pain and trauma of our community by those who are not connected to the experience is not only revising and erasing history, it is a violent act. Our community is still processing these traumas. Our community is still healing. Our community is still telling their stories. Please listen to them, and most importantly, honor them.»
VICE, take this article down. Mr. Loughrey, please stop using photos of Cambodian genocide victims for your experimentation and entertainment. We demand an apology.
The website of Matt Loughrey and the Instagram account for My Colorful Past are still live today and Mr Matt Loughrey still did not apologize to the family victims 6 months after publication.
The words of Matt Loughrey still stand today while confronted in April 2011:
«Nonsense. I am not falsifying history or anything of the sort – people are very quick to ‘call out’ others but the reality is something morally justifiable. I’ve worked with 142 (and counting) Cambodian families since late 2019 when this began and out of those 142 there are 11 that requested their relative to smile and in some of those cases it was the only picture they had. In some cases the prisoners were smiling and vice wrote about this, my observations on that are my own and I think I’m right about the nervousness and captor aspect.
That my altered pictures were published alongside my quote is happenstance…The calling out is just odd to me, it’s a bit like shouting across a street when I’m just an email away or a call – you’re welcome to do either. The response to this project has been so positive.»