Photo Story

Tracking down the Dith Pran-Knoxville connection

In the newspaper business, you grow to expect some surprising calls now and then. Last Wednesday morning we got a surprising call from someone in Boston who was helping to arrange a funeral for Dith Pran, asking for information.

Pran was, of course, the Cambodian interpreter and photojournalist whose story of the terrors of the Khmer Rouge became a movie called The Killing Fields. At the time of his death, he had, hanging on his wall of his home in New Jersey, a copy of a profile of himself from the May 27, 1987 issue of a glossy magazine called Campus Voice Biweekly.

His friends liked the photo, and wanted to use it in his funeral service, but wanted to get in touch with the photographer. They didn't recognize the magazine, but saw it had been published at 505 Market Street, Knoxville, Tenn.

It must have taken some savvy detective work, or at least some Googling, to send them to our offices. No. 505 Market Street was, from 1994 to 2004, the address of Metro Pulse. Which used to be biweekly, and has long used the motto "Knoxville's Weekly Voice." It's on our lobby door. Surely, they figured, we must be related to Campus Voice Biweekly.

We're not, but several years before Metro Pulse arrived there, 505 Market Street had been the main address of Whittle Communications, which published the national collegiate magazine Campus Voice.

It was the opinion of Pran's friends that the photo in Campus Voice was maybe the best one ever taken of him. He was obviously fond of it himself. They wanted permission to use it.

We're in touch with some of Whittle's old art directors, like Deb Hardison and former Metro Pulse art director Lisa Horstman, who still live in town, and artist Sally Ham, who now lives in Murfreesboro. With a few e-mails to old colleagues, they set up an e-mail web, and in short order triangulated the woman who had taken the photograph of Dith Pran 21 years ago. It turned out to be Laura Levine, the famous artist and rock 'n' roll photographer, who lives in New York.

Within an hour and a half after Pran's friend called our office on Gay Street, Laura Levine was talking with the Dith Pran people. Levine remembered the shoot, and her Knoxville contacts, fondly. The Internet is wonderful. Except, of course, when it's not.