Cambodia torture victims' photo manipulation

May 2021
Updated: December 2021

Manipulated photographs of Cambodian prisoners tortured by the Khmer Rouge have led to a heated public backlash about the ethics of photographic touching-up.

Irish artist Matt Loughrey had colourised black and white photographs of victims tortured by the Khmer Rouge in Phnom Penh's notorious S-21 prison, and jovialised them by adding smiles.

Published alongside an interview with Loughrey in Vice, the photographs resulted in complaints by victims' families and Cambodian authorities, accusations of re-writing history and copyright infringement, and a debate on the ethics of photographic manipulation.

Vice subsequently deleted the article and apologised, pointing out that the photographs had been 'manipulated beyond colourisation'. Loughrey had not mentioned adding smiles to the photographs.

Operator: Vice News
Developer: Matt Loughrey
Country: Rep. Ireland
Sector: Media/entertainment/sports/arts
Purpose: Colourise photographs
Technology: AI colourisation
Issue: Ethics; Copyright
Transparency: Governance