For Cambodian Americans of a certain age — the ones born in refugee camps or in the ’70s under genocidal Khmer Rouge rule — trauma is an unfortunate shared legacy. Pete Pin thinks his photography can help the healing process.
The New York-based photographer spent five months last year documenting the Cambodian diaspora in the Bronx with support from the Magnum Foundation; now, he’s coming to Philly for what he hopes will be a collaborative effort with Philly’s Cambodian community. His last visit to the city — where he connected with local groups like the anti-deportation activist One Love Movement — left a big impression. “There’s this guy that I met there during Cambodian New Year last year, and he had this tattoo on his fists that said, ‘Killing Fields.’ And on one fist was an image of what looked like the spires from Angkor Wat, and on the other was the skyline of [Philadelphia]. It just spoke of how that legacy was passed on generationally, that trauma. That was something that was very moving for me.” Pin, who was himself born in a refugee camp, hopes Cambodians will contribute their own photos and documents to the project, and open up to a discussion of their experiences. “My goal is not only to photograph these issues, but also to have some sort of engagement.” Pin plans to conclude his work here with a series of photo-based installations — not in Center City or in a museum somewhere, but in places like Olney or South Philly, neighborhoods that Philadelphia’s Cambodian-Americans now call home.