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Sun, Apr 16, 2000 - Page 5 News List

Being AI Rockoff: Shooting from the hip in Cambodia

The legendary combat photographer feels he has been unfairly treated by his profession, and misrepresented on film, so now, 25 year on from Year Zero, he has decided to let his arresting work from that period do the talking for him

Words By Phelim Kyne; Photos By Al Rockoff  /  TAIPEI TIMES CORRESPONDENT , IN PHNOM PENH

"Schanberg left on the first convoy out of the French Embassy and asked me for the rolls of film that I'd shot," Rockoff said heatedly.

"When I told him that I was on day rate for Newsweek and that he could only have the pictures they didn't want he said `See if the New York Times ever runs any of your stuff again.'"

In the end Newsweek only ran three of Rockoff's photos, and upon his return to the US he was relegated to the journalistic margins, the vast majority of his work unseen.

Insult was added to injury following the release of the movie The Killing Fields, which Rockoff insists is full of "slanderous" misrepresentations of the historical record.

Rockoff remains incensed by the movie's representation of Schanberg as a concerned, sensitive individual who agonized over the fate of his Cambodian interpreter, Dith Pran.

"Schanberg is a coward who put other people's lives in danger," Rockoff barked angrily. "He used and abused Dith Pran and personally tried to have me thrown out of the safety of the French Embassy in April 1975."

Rockoff is most aggrieved at one of the scenes most emotional moments: when a photograph that Malkovich as Rockoff has taken of Dith Pran for a false passport is spoiled by a chemical reaction.

According to Rockoff and others who were present, the scene is completely fictional.

"It never happened," Rockoff said. "That movie blames and slanders me."

Through his exhibition and a planned book of photographs documenting the Cambodian conflict and its post-Khmer Rouge reconstruction, Rockoff hopes to correct what he feels are equally serious public misconceptions about the destruction of Cambodia he chronicled in the 1970s.

"A lot of people don't even remember what the war [in Cambodia] was all about, and specifically the role of the [1970] American invasion in what eventually happened here," he said grimly. "The blood debt that America owes Cambodia is a big one."

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