obey x al rockoff

July 25, 2008


Shepard was recently presented with the opportunity to illustrate some incredible photographs taken by photojournalist Al Rockoff. The images that were drawn to Shepard fit exactly with the current times and express same complex emotions many people felt during the Vietnam War and feel today with war in Iraq.

Al Rockoff’s photos reveal the brutality, but also the conflicted humanity seen in war. The risks Rockoff took to capture his images were often as great as the risks of the subjects he wished to document. I’m honored to be able to work with Al Rockoff.
– Shepard

We will be releasing a series of prints based on Rockoff’s images the first of which is entitled Duality of Humanity 2. This print will released this Saturday, 7/26, at a random time. We will not be announcing the release time.

Al Rockoff is an American photojournalist made famous by his coverage of the Vietnam War and of the Khmer Rouges’ takeover of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital. He was also portrayed in the Academy Award winning film The Killing Fields, although he has never been happy with his portrayal.
Rockoff was born in Pawtucket, Rhode Island and is 1/2 Russian 1/2 Irish . After enlisting in the Navy while underage, he subsequently became an Army photographer in South Vietnam.

After several years in Vietnam, Rockoff came to the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh in the spring of 1973, when the US-backed government of Lon Nol was fighting the Chinese-backed Khmer Rouge insurgents. Both houses of Congress had voted to end USAF bombing missions over Cambodia that summer, and many journalists expected that the fall of Phnom Penh was imminent.

Rockoff was known to take tremendous risks to get his pictures at a time when any foreign journalist falling into Khmer Rouge hands could expect execution. In October 1974, he was badly wounded by shrapnel in an attack near the strategic city of Kompong Chnang, and technically ‘died’ for several minutes before his heart was revived by a Swedish Red Cross team. In April 1975, Rockoff was one of five US newsmen to remain in Phnom Penh when the US embassy launched a helicopter evacuation of its staff. On the morning of Phnom Penh’s fall, he was visiting the Preah Keth Melea hospital with New York Times reporter Sydney Schanberg and Jon Swain of The Sunday Times when they were arrested by a furious company of teenage Khmer Rouge soldiers. Only the intervention of Schanberg’s assistant Dith Pran saved their lives.

Most westerners took refuge in the French embassy from which they were taken by truck to Thailand two weeks later. But Cambodian citizens sheltering there, even government ministers seeking asylum, were ordered out. No exceptions were allowed, although some Cambodian women married to westerners could remain if they had documentation. Most did not survive the forced exodus to the countryside where they were expected to work in the fields. Rockoff tried to forge a passport for Dith Pran using an old passport belonging to Jon Swain. He is incensed at the way in which the ‘Killing Fields’ movie portrayed this, particularly scenes which appear to show him incompetently fixing up a dark room and chemical solution while a photo of Pran fades away. In reality, Dith Pran left the embassy of his own volition.

Later Rockoff and another journalist named Denis Cameron publicly disassociated themselves from the movie.

Rockoff currently lives between Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and Fort Lauderdale, FL where he still works as a photographer.

Some of his images have been exhibited in The Foreign Correspondent’s Club in Phnom Penh. He is working on a book of photos about Cambodian history since 1970.