If a picture tells a thousand words we know why photojournalists do what they do: they tell stories with their pictures. The fact that they are adventurers, hooked on living at the edge is not disputed. They put themselves out there for us. They show, tell us what we cannot see for ourselves. They are idealists in the best sense of the word; they search for truth, share that truth with the rest of us. Being a reporter by its very nature means being unable to take sides, unbiased, there to report on what they see, opinion-less.
That impartiality served to keep reporters out of harm's way -- flashing credentials, showing your camera, you were untouchable, a non-combatant protected by a long-standing code of ethics based on neutrality, dedicated to truth. During the Vietnam War, all that changed. Photojournalists, reporters left Kansas, never to return. Depending on who you were, you were with, or maybe just depending, the killing fields awaited.
Cambodia, the nation with the Sanskrit name, the land of Angkor Wat, a beautiful country nestled between Thailand, Laos and Vietnam is also a country of unspeakable horror and genocide. The United States bombed Cambodia from 1969 to 1973 in its effort to win the Vietnam War. There was civil war. There were killing fields.
Tim Page has been there. Tim Page is honored there. A part of Tim Page has never left. Why you might ask? In 1970 Tim Page lost over 25 of his photojournalist brothers in the course of one month. The hands-off policy abruptly changed but no one knew. In groups, one by one, they disappeared. Fell off the face of the earth maybe after living with families or the Khmer Rouge, maybe not. No remains. No word. No closure.
Why does Tim Page return to Cambodia year after year? He must know his brothers are long gone. The killing fields spared few. Time has passed, hopefully healed wounds. Yet Tim Page refuses to let go, to put it behind him, to move on, to get closure. He is determined to find out how his brothers died. How they lived their last days. He is determined to honor them. Tim Page made a promise.
In today's age of Facebook friends, where friend has become a verb instead of a noun, Tim Page is an anomaly. A world-known photojournalist who was pronounced dead three times, lives with shrapnel in his body and supposedly was the inspiration for the Dennis Hopper role in Apocalypse Now, no one can argue the fact that Tim Page has had a life. Tim Page has 'noun' friends. Tim Page's friends cannot be 'clicked' away in a moment of pique.
Ralph Hemecker met Tim Page at the inauguration of his now famous book, Requiem. Hemecker, a writer/director has had a passion for reporters, photojournalists who risk their lives by choice, who are on the front lines to bring us truth about what is going on in the world, who may 'disappear' doing so. A friendship was born: Lost Brothers is the progeny.
As Hemecker said: how many people live up to a promise? How many true friends does one have? What kind of a friend are we? Hemecker related to the nobility, perhaps the Quixotic quest Tim Page has, and joined it. Tim Page made a promise to his brothers not to leave them there. To bring them home. He may not be able to bring physical remains home, he may be talking about a different 'home'. A home in the heart. A home we all live in.
It is in that home that Tim Page and Ralph Hemecker cannot close the door. They want to know and will not rest until they find out how, when, with whom, the circumstances, the situations surrounding the disappearances and probable deaths of friends. To that end Tim Page and Ralph Hemecker continue the pursuit of truth with pictures. They know what happened to some of the men. They want to know what happened to all. They are in the process of documenting their efforts with a film entitled Lost Brothers and are looking for information, support and assistance in this quest. They know they will not live up to their brethren's mission and get the whole story. They are willing to settle for part. They are willing to settle for some truth, to honor the promise and give closure to these brave men and women as well as themselves.
Lost Brothers on Facebook.