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Photography, Preservation, and Ethics at Angkor
Abstract

Abstract:

This article considers the ethical implications of the intersection between photography and preservation at the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Angkor, Cambodia. Rather than focus on the photographic output of conservators, archaeologists, and other “heritage professionals,” however, my interest here is in activities and imagery that lie outside mainstream preservation practice, including fine art, travel, touristic, promotional, and charity-based endeavors. The core problematic at stake with this material is to what extent such projects might shape a wider understanding of preservation at a complex location like Angkor, and what the repercussions of this photographically inflected appreciation might be for the most disenfranchised stakeholders of the site, namely the indigenous population who live and work around Angkor and the modern town of Siem Reap. In other words, what can we learn from the diverse ways photography has been used to document and represent Angkor, and how can heritage deploy photography toward more ethical and critically engaged ends? The essay is based on original archival research and ethnographic fieldwork carried out during 2011–2013, and illustrated with images that visually critique the “photographic life” of Angkor.