Norodom Sihanouk

In 1967, Norodom Sihanouk, the head of state of Cambodia, launched a campaign to promote his country’s cultural treasures and tourist attractions. Photography was the key to the campaign and by chance several famous photographers had come to work at Angkor. But Sihanouk chose Raymond Cauchetier because he was enchanted by his album on Saigon and appreciated his view of the common people.

Raymond Cauchetier stayed in Cambodia for two months, without taking a day’s rest. After taking several thousand photos, he waited anxiously for Sihanouk’s reaction. But the king was delighted, decorated him and invited him to set up a National School of Photography in Cambodia. A flattering offer that Raymond Cauchetier was unfortunately unable to accept, because of prior engagements.

Norodom had an air-conditioned safe built to protect the slides and negatives, which had been declared a national treasure. But shortly afterwards, he was overthrown by a coup d’état while he was on a visit to France. General Lon-Nol, who seized power, was in turn driven out by the Khmer Rouge not long after. They found the safe when they invaded the royal palace, and believing it contained jewellery, dynamited it. All the photos were destroyed. Nothing remains except a few copies that Raymond Cauchetier had kept as souvenirs.