Colin Grafton (b. 1947, London, England, in 1947) is a photographer who came to Southeast Asia overland as a travel lover and English teacher in 1969, staying in Laos from 1970 to 1972 and in Cambodia from 1972 to the 1975 days preceding Phnom Penh takeover by the Khmer Rouge forces. He was able to photograph one of the last Khmer classical dance performance in Phnom Penh in 1974, and crossed by chance the path of one of the dancers, who had taken refuge in Tokyo, developing a lasting interest for Khmer performance arts.
Escaping to Bangkok -- "we naively thought the crisis would last only a few weeks or months", he recalled for us in 2021 --, , he went to Japan, teaching Japanese overseas volunteers (JOCV/JICA) until 1980, then returned to Thailand as a volunteer worker in the Cambodian refugee camps. He held his first photo exhibition on Cambodia in the UK in 1981. Later, after 3 years in South America, he returned to Japan where he continued teaching, worked as English language advisor for ACCU (Asia/Pacific Cultural Centre for UNESCO) in Tokyo, and produced several photo exhibitions on Laos & Cambodia.
Colin returned to Cambodia on a private visit in 1992, became a frequent visitor and settled here in 2014. Since then, he and his wife Keiko Kitamura have worked on exhibitions and projects at Bophana Center, Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Meta House. In 2021, he publsihed Dancers, a visual and written account of his re-encounter with exiled Khmer classical dancers.
In August 2008 at RUFA Phnom Penh, Colin Grafton captured the Heavenly Flower involving Japanese and Khmer apsara dancers.
Dancers Hitomi Yamanaka (center) and Om Yuvana (right) at the Heavenly Flowers performance. (photo Colin Grafton)
Colin Grafton with Sopheak Pheana at the Queen Mother Library, Phnom Penh, Sept. 2022.
(Portrait photo by Steve Porte)