Kep Tomer and the Khmer-Israeli Connection

Nou Sotheavy / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Kep Tomer with photos reminiscent of those at Toul Sleng, featuring his sister (L) and his father’s ex-girlfriends who did not survive the Khmer Rouge. (KT Photo: Sotheavy Nou)

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) –  Cambodian-Israeli photographer Kep Tomer will talk about his unique heritage and photography this Thursday evening at the Bophana Audiovisual Resource Center.

Born in Jerusalem in 1978 to a Khmer father and a mother originally from Morocco, Mr. Tomer was the only Cambodian-Moroccan child he knew growing up. His father is likely the only Jewish Khmer anywhere, having converted to Judaism from Buddhism after fleeing the Khmer Rouge for Israel in 1974.

Currently a professor of photography and a film library manager at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, Mr. Tomer is on his second trip to Cambodia to find out more about the land his father came from. 

In Black and White

Most of Mr. Tomer’s photography is inspired by his unique family history. The questions of identity and growing up in Israel as a Khmer-Moroccan are central to his work.

He adheres to black and white photography, analog cameras and chemical printing processes. Mr. Tomer won’t even crop or Photoshop his pictures. 

He believes that the minimalist style of black and white photography lends itself to the stories he tries to convey with his photos. In a solo exhibition of 16 photographs named “Room for Doubt” held in Tel Aviv last month, Mr. Tomer explored his conflicted feelings growing up in Israel with such an unusual family background, and the concept of what home really means. 

Video is another way he has been documenting his family history. In 2006, he came to Cambodia for the first time with his father and decided to record the trip on video. He met the only one of his father’s family to survive the killing fields, his father’s younger sister, and set out to explore past and present Cambodia, armed with a video camera.

Family 

Mr. Tomer’s grandfather was working at the Cambodian Embassy in Jerusalem when his father, who is from Phnom Penh, joined him just before the Khmer Rouge and Pol Pot rose to power in Cambodia.

Growing up, Mr. Tomer and his younger brother and sister were all raised as Israelis. Coming to Cambodia with his father in 2006 felt like a cultural awakening, as Mr. Tomer saw the country his father had never talked much about in Israel.

Mr. Tomer said that when he met his aunt for the first time in 2006, she told him, “to concentrate on the nice things in the country.” Inspired by her optimism, he has returned to Cambodia again both as a photographer and to understand more about Khmer culture.

Making the Khmer Connection

As a guest of SA SA BASSAC, a contemporary arts organization, in collaboration with Bophana and L’Atelier Argentique, Mr. Tomer will hold his talk in English with a simultaneous Khmer  translation at the Bophana Center on Thursday at 6pm.

Erin Gleeson, who founded SA SA BASSAC in 2007 to support emerging Cambodian artists, believes Mr. Tomer’s talk with help forge deeper connections between Cambodia and Israel, both countries whose people have suffered genocides. 

“The more narratives or bodies of work produced, the more complex our understanding of history here becomes,” said Ms. Gleeson. “Tomer has a strange story because you don’t often hear about the Cambodian community in Israel, because his family is the only one in the country.” 

When: Thursday, December 18th, 6.00 – 7.30PM

Where: Bophana, Street 200 #64, Phnom Penh, Cambodia 
 

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