My friend and favorite Photographer Dith Pran is no more. This week I remember him for his bravery, triumph of Human spirit over war crime.
Dith Pran (born September 27, 1942 – March 30, 2008) was a photojournalist best known as a refugee and Cambodian Genocide survivor and was the subject of the Academy Award-winning film The Killing Fields. (He was portrayed in the movie by first-time actor Haing S. Ngor, who won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his performance.)
In 1975, Pran and New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg stayed behind in Cambodia to cover the fall of the capital Phnom Penh to the communist Khmer Rouge forces. Schanberg and other foreign reporters were allowed to leave, but Pran was not permitted to leave the country. When Cambodians were forced to work in forced labor camps, Pran had to endure four years of starvation and torture before finally escaping to Thailand in 1979. He coined the phrase “killing fields” to refer to the clusters of corpses and skeletal remains of victims he encountered during his 40-mile escape. His three brothers were killed back in Cambodia.
From 1980, Pran worked as a photojournalist with The New York Times in the United States. He also campaigned for recognition of the Cambodian Genocide victims, especially as founder and president of The Dith Pran Holocaust Awareness Project. He was a recipient of an Ellis Island Medal of Honor in 1998 and of The International Center in New York’s Award of Excellence.
Pran died on 30 March 2008, having been diagnosed with stage 4 pancreatic cancer just three months earlier.