What is your current role?
I’m an independent Bangkok-based photographer and author. At the time of writing, I’m working as a reporter/co-producer for a short film for Al Jazeera English on a segment called “101 East”. We are looking at the issue of the rule of law in Cambodia (or the lack thereof). I’m also writing for Granta magazine about the UN-backed Khmer Rouge tribunal in Cambodia and another feature for Prospect magazine about Burma’s dictatorship. ‘BURMA SOLDIER’ a documentary film I co-directed.
In what way did your time at Bedales influence your education and career progression (e.g. approach to teaching and learning, broader experience)?
At Bedales it was the encouragement of enquiry that helped me regain a confidence that had been lost at other schools. These schools did their best to try and educate people out of creative and critical thought. What Bedales did was reinforce the belief that education should not be limited to the narrow realm of academia alone and, as individuals, we all have something useful to offer and that worth comes in many shapes and forms. The pioneering spirit was very much in line with what I believed; that education was about opening up new areas of creative enquiry - not simply to follow existing ones. And that has been a guiding principle for me since.
What amazes me about education in England is that a place like Bedales should be regarded as ‘progressive’ or ‘alternative’. These labels are more a statement about the way we approach education in general which can be arcane. All too often education is viewed as a way of accumulating qualifications rather than actually learning to think. What happens when everyone has a PhD, how will people be assessed in the future? Of course, a school like Bedales isn’t for everyone, but nor should it be the exception.
My own view is that the greatest gift a child can be given is self-confidence. The confidence to be oneself, to celebrate differences, to experiment and explore and think outside established truths. In that respect, Bedales remained true to its original ethos. My later professional life hasn’t followed a particular route, not for the sake of it, but because it made sense to me. And the confidence to follow what I believed in was thanks, in large part, to my time at Bedales.
Strictly speaking I shouldn't have been accepted – I had few qualifications having had a difficult time elsewhere. I was accepted on the strength of interviews and a portfolio of my art-work. I will always be grateful to the staff for taking a chance with me and for their belief that a person's worth can be measured in many different ways. For that I owe a huge debt of gratitude.
What is your fondest memory of Bedales?
There are too many to mention. It was the general atmosphere I remember. In particular, the close bonds of friendship that I formed. The encouragement of creativity and independent thought and a deep respect for the individual was a real tonic for me. Bedales was such a relief; to find so many people just like me was wonderful. And there was a genuine respect between pupils and staff free of artifice. It was also the surroundings that made it so special. It’s a truly beautiful part of Hampshire and I’ll always remember the long walks.
Above all I had a lot of fun at Bedales. And, if you’re not having fun at school, you’re not learning.
What is your favourite pastime?
Reading, watching films, photography (I’ve recently returned to painting), going for long walks in beautiful and lonely places (Connemara, Wicklow, Wiltshire, the north of Thailand). It’s hard to answer this because I enjoy my work and find it hard to separate the two. In a sense all of my work is personal.
What is your proudest achievement?
My greatest achievement was writing ‘The Lost Executioner’ (Bloomsbury), a biography of Pol Pot’s chief executioner whom I discovered and exposed in 1999. It wasn’t so much the discovery of this man - which led to his arrest and subsequent conviction at the UN Khmer Rouge trial in Cambodia - but the opportunity that finding him gave me to delve deeply into Cambodia’s tragic past. It opened up new ways of thinking and looking at the past and to learn some important lessons about human nature, about the nature of ‘evil’ as well as to explore themes of responsibility, photography, remorse and the nature of crimes of this magnitude. It enabled me to write which I hope to do more of. I’m also proud of some of the photographs I’ve taken over the years, like my portrait of Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel laureate and leader of Burma’s democratic opposition.
Year of leaving Bedales:
* Picture shows Nic delivering a package from John Pilger to Aung San Suu Kyi (Nobel laureate and general secretary of the National League for Democracy the party that won the Burmese election of 1990). This was in Rangoon in 1996. She had just been released from her first term under house arrest (6 years).
Nic's photo agency can be found at www.panos.co.uk.
Read press release on Nic's new book, Brave New Burma.