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Photojournalist Go Takayama Imprisoned In Cambodia

By: Donald R. Winslow Posted: December-04-2010 in
Donald R. Winslow

Photojournalist Go Takayama, 28, a visual journalist from Japan who is a graduate of Ohio University's School of Visual Communication and who has interned at several American newspapers, has been jailed in Cambodia after taking pictures for a story he was working while participating in the Angkor Photo Workshops.

After photographing a married couple inside a home on the evening of November 23, 2010, Takayama was stopped on the street by undercover police and detained until additional police arrived, Angkor Photo Workshop organizer Jessica Lim told News Photographer magazine today. They confiscated his camera along with 78 photographs from his memory card, which have been admitted as evidence in an accusation charging Takayama with producing pornographic content. He has been under arrest and in prison since that night.

"The 78 photographs depict a couple hugging and holding each other," Lim said today. "Although there was never any nudity, the man had his shirt off and halfway through the shoot the woman took her blouse off as well. The man had on shorts and the woman had on trousers throughout the entire shoot and there was no explicit sexual activity."

"We are very concerned that press articles and reports released to date about Takayama's arrest are giving grossly inaccurate information, which contradict the actual events as well as the notes and reports that were made by the police," Lim said. "We would like to clarify all the information regarding Takayama and the circumstances of his arrest."

Lim said that they believe Takayama has been wrongfully accused and are urging Cambodian police and the court to drop all charges made against the photojournalist. A hearing date has been scheduled for December 7 in Siem Reap. She has visited Takayama in prison as recently as yesterday, and the photographer is being represented by a local Cambodian attorney.

Lim said that Takayama arrived in Siem Reap on November 17, one day before the start of the Angkor Photo Workshops were to begin, and he intended to leave when the festival concluded. A visual communications and political science graduate of Ohio University, Takayama is a frequent participant in photojournalism workshops. Lim says Takayama has participated in the Missouri Photo Workshop (2009), American Diversity Project (2008), Truth With A Camera Workshop (2008), the Atlanta Photojournalism Seminar (2007), NPPA's 50th annual Flying Short Course (2007), and the VII Photo Seminar (2006). The photojournalist interned at the Evansville Courier & Press and at the Patuxent Publishing Company.

On the strength of his portfolio, Takayama was admitted to the Angkor Photo Workshops, an annual free workshop organized for young and talented Asian photographers, Lim said. During the workshop each participant has to develop a project and shoot a photographic essay. Takayama was one of 31 participants from 14 Asian countries in this year's Angkor event.

For his project, Takayama researched a Cambodian folk tale known as the "Seven Color Princess," Lim said. To illustrate the various aspects of the lore, a narrative about a princess and a crocodile, Takayama had already photographed several other people in various situations, including subjects at a crocodile farm, a floating market, Tonle Sap lake, a boxing match in a Pagoda, and a traditional Khmer wedding. Lim said Takayama had shot more than 1,400 photographs on his essay's theme, and some of the photographs are pictures of places that do not have people in them.

One component of the folk tale is the idea of "strong, possessive love," Lim said. In the tale, when the crocodile finds out the princess is planning to leave him to marry another, the crocodile eats the princess so that she will remain with him forever. To illustrate this part of the story, Lim said, Takayama decided to show strong, possessive love demonstrated between two people. To do so, he was photographing a married couple, with their permission, who knew the context of the story he was trying to illustrate for the workshop.

"No explicit sexual activity took place during the shoot," Lim told News Photographer magazine. She said the couple were photographed hugging and kissing "in a romantic light."

When the photographer was stopped by police, Lim says, he and the couple were asked to accompany officers to a police station. There the photographer was charged with producing pornography for the purpose of distributing pornographic content. Lim and the Angkor Photo Workshops have helped to arrange for Takayama to be represented at his first hearing by local attorney Sourng Sophea.

Lim says that contrary to a story published in the Phonm Phen Post, Takayama never hired a Cambodian man and female sex workers to take him to brothels to photograph women, as the newspaper reported in a story that quoted a Cambodian police officer. Lim says that also contrary to published reports there is absolutely no nudity in any of the photographs, no sexual activity, and that all 78 photographs show the same couple. She also says his photographs were produced only for the workshop project, and Takayama had no intention of distributing or publishing the content. Lim says Takayama has told her that he has never photographed sexual acts in his photography career.

Since the time of his arrest, Lim and others have been working behind the scenes to try to convince Cambodian police that Takayama has been wrongfully accused. Letters from one of Takayama's professors at Ohio University and from editors who supervised him during his internships have been sent to Cambodia in support of the photojournalist, hoping to show police and the court that Takayama is a documentary photographer with a track record of credibility, and not a pornographer as accused.

Since police and authorities have so far held to their contention stated in the charges and appear to be moving forward to the first court hearing, Lim and workshop organizers who have been seeking support for Takayama today issued a press release telling their side of the story after press reports began to surface that made erroneous claims, Lim said.

Source: National Press Photographers Association


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