The haunting photo above showed the road leading to Angkor Thom – covered in detritus from the forest and devoid of any trace of people, except for a solitary human spine.
It was taken by Taizo Ichinose, a Japanese photographer, whose ambition to capture images of the Angkor Wat while the temple was controlled by the Khmer Rouge soldiers (and subsequently be featured on the front page of the New York Times).
The then 26-year old started out as a freelance photographer to cover the war in East Pakistan, before being sucked into the quagmire that was Vietnam War. There, his photo above of a South Vietnamese soldier diving for safety as mortar round fired by communist guerrillas blew up a truck loaded with ammunition, became UPI’s Photo of the Month in August 1972.
Throughout 1972 and 1973, Taizo crisscrossed the Mekong River between Phnon Penh and Saigon, covering the communist forces that were ascendant and soon to be victorious in both countries (Diving for Safety was taken mere 45 miles outside of Saigon). He snuck in and out of Cambodia, once under the pretext of being a boxing teacher, covering the battles between the pro-American Khmer Republic of Marshal Lon Nol and the communist Khmer Rouge forces.
He had close calls. In October 1972, he was hit by a rifle bullet, and the fragments of a grenade that exploded nearby destroyed his Nikon camera. Taizo suffered only minor injuries to his right hand. The camera, which he took back to Japan, became a centerpiece of many retrospectives on his work (below).
He told a friend, “one step on a mine, and it’s all over”. Macabre perhaps, but not too surprising, considering that many reporters and photographers had perished similarly in jungles and rice fields of Vietnam – all the way back to Robert Capa in 1954.
When Ichinose met his end, however, it was not on a landmine. He was likely executed by the Khmer Rouge, sometime in late 1973. It was not entirely clear how and when he was killed, but his later-recovered diary and eyewitness accounts from neighboring villagers stated that he was arrested by Khmer Rouge troops during a battle and via an interpreter, found out that he was journalist.
His disappearance made headlines across the world, and his parents kept the search going. The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs managed to track down his film negatives in the subsequent years (including the color one of the pinecone towers of Angkor Wat from the distance, known in the exhibit above), and his remains were eventually found in 1982.
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