Few countries attract less attention than Laos, and fewer still are as deft at repelling scrutiny. Over the years, the landlocked nation evolved into a perfect repository for secrets. Laos was the site of the CIA's largest paramilitary operation and the most extensive clandestine bombing campaign in history. The U.S. was defeated and Communists took power in 1975, but the tradition of secrecy held firm. Even today, grave incidents which would provoke outrage elsewhere – persecution, abuse, corruption, starvation – are easily shrugged off or quietly ignored. A potent blend of Leninist political theory and shady business practices keep the Communists firmly in power. Despite the end of the Cold War, the government of Laos continues to relentlessly hunt and kill ethnic Hmong people who collaborated with the U.S. more than three decades ago.
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Initially a student in philosophy, Tomas van Houtryve discovered his passion for photography during an overseas study program in Nepal. In 2010 he was named the POYi Photographer of the Year. Previous honors include the Perpignan Young Photographer Award and the Bayeux-Calvados Prize for War Correspondents. Solo exhibitions of his work have been shown in Paris, New York City, Spain and Italy. His pictures and writing appear regularly in publications worldwide, including Time, The New York Times, Newsweek and others. Van Houtryve is based in Paris and represented by the VII Photo agency.