This article explores how photographs selected from an archive represent the Cham ethnic group. It argues that portrait photographs provide a useful analytical focus for critiquing ethnonational categories and their visual representations. Cham live across Southeast Asia, speak a Malayo-Polynesian language and exemplify the global and protracted nature of forced displacement. Little unites them beyond their self-identification as such, and their minority status in every country they call home. The article examines the extent to which selected photographs engage with and challenge dominant depictions of Cham ethnicity as a basis for considering an alternative approach to belonging that is not bound to the dichotomy of self and other. It concludes that the materiality of the sea holds greater potential to capture the emotional and atemporal elements of living as a migrant or an ethnic minority than analyses trapped within the linear and bounded spatiotemporal frames that create those conceptual categories.