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"The answer was to photograph the surface itself."
May 21, 2011 8:32 AM   Subscribe

Welcome to Pyongyang
posted by empath (65 comments total) 41 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some more photos from the series are on his (annoyingly browser-resizing) personal site.
posted by Gator at 8:39 AM on May 21, 2011


Everyone looks so natural and relaxed in those photos. I found this clickable family tree the other day which is quite interesting.
posted by gman at 8:39 AM on May 21, 2011


I made a FPP a couple years back about some guys who got below the surface.
posted by dunkadunc at 8:44 AM on May 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


Omg, the stark contrast between the Spartan austerity and that obscenely lacy tv cover kitsch is mesmerizing. What does it mean?

Interesting post, thanks.
posted by nickyskye at 8:51 AM on May 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't understand why these photos stand out from the hundreds of other stages shots to come out of North Korea.
posted by Malice at 8:52 AM on May 21, 2011


Over expose much?
posted by Virtblue at 9:00 AM on May 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


I thought these were beautifully snarky. Sure, I'll photograph your war plane, I'll just show it in an empty museum with terrible architecture. And here's your beautiful subway station devoid of people and wear. And your store full of goods, all perfectly in place, like no one has ever bought a thing there. These look like photos of a simulation, not a real city. That's not by accident.
posted by Nelson at 9:01 AM on May 21, 2011 [38 favorites]


I wrote a much longer post about the way the subjects and incidental details in these shots are so at odds with each other, but then my computer crashed and now I see Nelson has done a better job with that thought, anyway.

What really stands out for me is the way the subjects of each of these shots tries to convey a sense of prosperity, but the surrounding environments are so barren and empty. I don't think that emptiness is a result of Crane orchestrating the shot as much as simply noticing the emptiness that's actually there, and putting it behind more vibrant imagery.
posted by byanyothername at 9:10 AM on May 21, 2011


Coverage of North Korea makes me uncomfortable. There is reason to believe that the people are experiencing the worst of human experiences and yet there is so little being done for them. All we get are these reports of a fake reality. One day the people of North Korea will be free and I really fear the horror stories we'll hear about and not being able to answer the question why we didn't do anything. I just wish more was being done on a global level.
posted by Foci for Analysis at 9:14 AM on May 21, 2011 [19 favorites]


As a series, they seem utterly devoid if humanity, which I guess is the point. There are living bodies, but the souls have been rendered unto some sort of spiritual neutron bomb.
posted by Devils Rancher at 9:18 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Well at least it's clean.
posted by Meatbomb at 9:20 AM on May 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


One day the people of North Korea will be free and I really fear the horror stories we'll hear about and not being able to answer the question why we didn't do anything.

because we couldn't do anything without a major war happening
posted by pyramid termite at 9:23 AM on May 21, 2011 [12 favorites]


The Red Chapel is a documentary about some Danish guys who got some crazy footage by pretending to go along with the regime.
posted by Rykey at 9:25 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


One day the people of North Korea will be free and I really fear the horror stories we'll hear about and not being able to answer the question why we didn't do anything.

The best thing to do is to give help to South Korea when it asks for it. Not everything needs to be solved by western and predominantly white countries.
posted by KokuRyu at 9:27 AM on May 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Also,

Over expose much?

That actually looks like some kind of post-processing trickery. Only the background whites are washed out, while the other colors are pretty normally exposed and saturated.
posted by Rykey at 9:28 AM on May 21, 2011


The best thing for white people to so is to leave this problem to nonwhite people.
posted by found missing at 9:31 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


this flickr stream (previously) is massive and mind-blowingly awesome, and pretty much the polar opposite of the photos above in terms of authentic vs. staged north korean life

- pyongyang
- north korea (except pyongyang)
posted by jjoye at 9:37 AM on May 21, 2011 [18 favorites]


The best thing for white people to so is to leave this problem to nonwhite people.

I find this statement offensive. Perhaps you're joking.
posted by eeeeeez at 9:41 AM on May 21, 2011


Meant as response to KokuRyu.
posted by found missing at 9:48 AM on May 21, 2011


I believe the third photo is the U.S.S. Pueblo. They like to drag visitors through a tour of the "armed spy ship of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces".
posted by rh at 9:49 AM on May 21, 2011


Malice: “I don't understand why these photos stand out from the hundreds of other stages shots to come out of North Korea.”

They seem pretty subversive of the party dogma to me. It's very difficult to see a photo of an unsmiling child standing stock-straight before a looming gray edifice of concrete that rises to the heavens and thing: "what a glorious nation!" It's more just depressing, and downright frightening. Which somehow seems more evocative of North Korea than most of the "officially allowed" photographs.

He's playing along this line, making photographs that are 'acceptable' to the tasteless censors who don't quite get what he's doing but that speak volumes about the insufferable weight of state oppression. Anyone familiar with art in the old communist territories probably has seem similar stuff.
posted by koeselitz at 9:52 AM on May 21, 2011 [24 favorites]


That actually looks like some kind of post-processing trickery. Only the background whites are washed out, while the other colors are pretty normally exposed and saturated.

Looks like a blanket de-saturation to me. I do it often with wedding photos (helps with skin tone).
posted by jimmythefish at 9:57 AM on May 21, 2011


A North Korean Guide.
posted by Mblue at 10:19 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


I believe the third photo is the U.S.S. Pueblo. They like to drag visitors through a tour of the "armed spy ship of the U.S. imperialist aggression forces".

Think again. That's definitely not the Pueblo - it's way too small. Compare the two ships.
posted by item at 10:36 AM on May 21, 2011


Behold our glorious backhoe! It is light blue, our glorious backhoe!
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:38 AM on May 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


It's the rear end of the Pueblo, compare here. And it even says "PUEBLO" on it, which I didn't notice at first.
posted by Gator at 10:40 AM on May 21, 2011


Or maybe I'm wrong, considering the first linked photo's ship actually has the word "PUEBLO" painted on it. I need a nap.

Nap time!
posted by item at 10:40 AM on May 21, 2011


If we had less things, it would be easier to keep the place picked up.
posted by Mei's lost sandal at 10:41 AM on May 21, 2011 [5 favorites]


Jinx, but I gave all my Coke to Our Glorious and Immortal Leader.
posted by item at 10:42 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not a single natural smile in the bunch, which was really what hit me. The only sort-of smiles are in the family picture.
posted by gemmy at 10:56 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


These criminal reactionary warmongers, in a mad crazy bid of unhinged fallacy carelessly throw around the words of Leader Kim Jong Il and Cancer within a same sentence thus trying to inpinge on the greatness of Kim Jong Il the Great Commander of Mt Baektu born on the Sacred Mountain.

Blogspot and the petrol engine.
posted by Mblue at 11:05 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Two facts about (North) Korea helped me better understand it:

1. Geographically, due to mountains and weather, it does not have enough land to grow enough food to feed its population. It must import food to survive, or it will have famines.
2. Korea had both the fourth and eighth longest dynasties in world history ie. they can be stubbornly traditional (conservative).
posted by stbalbach at 11:14 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Nelson, koselitz, some other commentors...yup.

There is no doubt that the photographer deliberately captured the sterility and emptiness. The funny thing about censorship...sometimes it's not so much about what you say, as what is unsaid. I expect the censors missed this, as they have no frame of reference. This is a quality representation of the vitality of the DPRK to them.

My dad used to work for a time at the DMZ in the 1960's. He said that the North and South Koreans were constantly trying to one-up each other in various ways. One side would get a big flag, the other would get a bigger flag, for example. Now we've all seen the pictures of the grim-face, stock-straight, spit-and-polish North Korean guards facing equally grim ROK troops across the border at Pyongyang. As a contrarian psychological measure I thought it would be interesting if one day, instead of serious South Korean soldiers in spotless uniforms appearing for duty, unshaven, disheveled n'er-do-wells showed up instead. Some might be in dirty, unbuttoned uniforms that looked as if they'd been slept in for a week, while others might just look like - or even actually be - dirty street kids from Portland. Set up the folding chairs, break out the bongos and the bong, and protect the border with a subversive drum circle.

You know the North Koreans would be highly insulted. It would seriously dishonor them. What could be better?
posted by Xoebe at 11:24 AM on May 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


Xoebe: "Set up the folding chairs, break out the bongos and the bong, and protect the border with a subversive drum circle."

Somehow I don't think the brass down in Seoul would go for that, though.
posted by dunkadunc at 11:32 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Coverage of North Korea makes me uncomfortable. There is reason to believe that the people are experiencing the worst of human experiences and yet there is so little being done for them. All we get are these reports of a fake reality. One day the people of North Korea will be free and I really fear the horror stories we'll hear about and not being able to answer the question why we didn't do anything. I just wish more was being done on a global level.
What do you mean why isn't more being done? The U.S. government went to war there, and we've spent the past 60 years opposing them. Since the end of the cold war there has been an effort to negotiate with them, but the most pressing issue is their nuclear weapons. Plus, frankly, as long as China is supporting them with their oil pipelines and stuff it's not going to be possible to shut them down.

But North Korea is a major area of diplomatic focus. They're not in the news much because not much is happening.
posted by delmoi at 11:55 AM on May 21, 2011 [2 favorites]


Where is everybody? Most of the photos in the FPP and the other Flickr sets linked above have only a handful of people in them, but Pyongyang's infrastructure is obviously built for high population density (e.g. highrise buildings, streetcar lines). It would be hard to get such empty shots in most cities of the world, yet most of these photos make Pyongyang look like a ghost town. Sort of post-apocalyptic, so empty and lifeless.
posted by Quietgal at 11:59 AM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


What's most chilling about the photos are that these people are North Korea's elites, a vampiric and parasitic class that exploits whatever 99% of the rest of population creates, and offers absolutely nothing of value in return.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:04 PM on May 21, 2011 [7 favorites]


that obscenely lacy tv cover kitsch is mesmerizing.

Notice how the "rabbit ears" have three adjustable antennae. Gives you more to do, if the programming lags.
posted by StickyCarpet at 12:07 PM on May 21, 2011


1. Geographically, due to mountains and weather, it does not have enough land to grow enough food to feed its population. It must import food to survive, or it will have famines.

I read somewhere they build this big hydroelectric dam that wound up flooding a whole bunch of their arable land, causing to the early-90s famine. Of course, the dam is officially touted as one of Kim Jong Il's greatest acheivements, and a shining example of Juche.

Anybody know if there's any truth to this?
posted by Afroblanco at 12:17 PM on May 21, 2011


dunkadunc: Somehow I don't think the brass down in Seoul would go for that, though.

They would only need James Brown's permission, since he's the Godfather of Seoul.
posted by dr_dank at 12:20 PM on May 21, 2011 [9 favorites]


Afroblanco: saw that in the Viceland documentary as well. They showed people touting the dam
posted by delmoi at 12:20 PM on May 21, 2011


KokuRyu: "What's most chilling about the photos are that these people are North KoreaAmerica's elites, a vampiric and parasitic class that exploits whatever 99% of the rest of population creates, and offers absolutely nothing of value in return"

I don't think that situation is necessarily unique to North Korea.

(Also, FTFY)
posted by klanawa at 12:24 PM on May 21, 2011 [4 favorites]


The lacy TV is in a hospital room, I think. Stark contrast with Amnesty International's report that they don't have clean linens, sterile needles, or anesthesia for surgeries.

So you visit the doctor after trying to fill your empty stomach with tree bark and grass, you pay the doctor in smokes and alcohol, but hey! A lacy cosy for the TV!
posted by Houstonian at 12:25 PM on May 21, 2011


(Also, FTFY)

Speaking as someone who has lost a job in the last couple of years, and whose income has been halved, yeah, you're kinda right. But where would you want to live? Canada or North Korea?
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eh, I don't know, I think the "subversive because of the photographer's juxtaposition of monuments with emptiness" angle is overblown. That's what all photos from North Korea look like.

In fact, the only ones that didn't seem to me to be completely typical of photos from North Korea were the family shot, in which some of the people were clearly smiling, and the shot of the ping pong player, in which she looked like she was on the verge of smiling, as if she was actually happy to some degree.

All of the others are exactly what always comes out of NK. It's what the North Koreans think will impress us; it's not some subversive statement on the part of the photographer.
posted by Flunkie at 12:36 PM on May 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


KokuRyu: "But where would you want to live? Canada or North Korea?"

Canada, for the win!

But these things have a tendency to change over time. Stephen Harper ain't no Kim Jong Il, but, as they say, baby steps...
posted by klanawa at 12:40 PM on May 21, 2011


That's what all photos from North Korea look like.
Check out the Kernbeisser flickr stream linked above.
posted by brokkr at 1:41 PM on May 21, 2011


KokuRyu: "What's most chilling about the photos are that these people are North Korea's elites, a vampiric and parasitic class that exploits whatever 99% of the rest of population creates, and offers absolutely nothing of value in return."

So... The folks on Wall Street would fit right in, eh?

In other linkage - I always like to share this one (graphic and horrible as it is - it's also dirty real footage smuggled out from non-Pyongyang): Children of a Secret State...
posted by symbioid at 1:57 PM on May 21, 2011 [3 favorites]


OH - and the non-pyongyang flickr set. THAT is what makes me think "Hey, N Korea isn't too bad" Shame the non-smiling, drab grey concrete is what they think is impressive and modern and wonderful (and yet, so... not modern).
posted by symbioid at 1:59 PM on May 21, 2011


One day the people of North Korea will be free and I really fear the horror stories we'll hear about and not being able to answer the question why we didn't do anything.

The best thing to do is to give help to South Korea when it asks for it. Not everything needs to be solved by western and predominantly white countries.


Where in that original comment does it say that the "we" are western and predominantly white?
posted by euphorb at 2:01 PM on May 21, 2011


Those guys seem to wear lots of uniforms.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 2:03 PM on May 21, 2011


Thanks for all the links and photos--I forget and I did not know. These are much appreciated.
posted by rmhsinc at 2:09 PM on May 21, 2011


Flunkie: “All of the others are exactly what always comes out of NK. It's what the North Koreans think will impress us; it's not some subversive statement on the part of the photographer.”

Did you read the link to his own web page? The photographer himself certainly intended these pictures to be subversive, whether he's successful or not.
posted by koeselitz at 2:17 PM on May 21, 2011


A TV doilie? That is something I have never seen before... bizarre...
posted by blakslaks at 2:25 PM on May 21, 2011


dunkadunc: Somehow I don't think the brass down in Seoul would go for that, though.

They would only need James Brown's permission, since he's the Godfather of Seoul.

"maceo!"
posted by pyramid termite at 3:42 PM on May 21, 2011


For anyone interested in North Korea, I highly recommend Nothing to Envy. It's an account of life in North Korea from 1990 to the mid-2000s, based on interviews with defectors. An absolutely harrowing read.
posted by hawkeye at 4:54 PM on May 21, 2011 [8 favorites]


Notice how the "rabbit ears" have three adjustable antennae. Gives you more to do, if the programming lags.

I think that may be a shadow. The angle being identical to the foreground antenna and the lack of color make me think that, but I can't be sure. Also, I only just now realized what may lie underneath the weirdness of having a TV doily: it's long since broken, and only being used now to decorate an otherwise completely austere room.
posted by byanyothername at 6:22 PM on May 21, 2011


By the way, I'm sure it's found its way on MetaFilter before, but for those of you who want some unusual DPRK photography, Inside a North Korean Arcade is an interesting series. Remembering what a luxury this all is for the North Koreans who can/could enjoy this makes these photos almost too sad for me to look at.
posted by byanyothername at 6:27 PM on May 21, 2011


Omg, the stark contrast between the Spartan austerity and that obscenely lacy tv cover kitsch is mesmerizing. What does it mean?

TV's are expensive and need to be protected from dust etc. :)
posted by the cydonian at 11:23 PM on May 21, 2011


Considering the tonnage of the bombs (800 tons per day) and the widespread use of napalm, I don't see how anyone can be shocked at their extreme mistrust of the west. There were massive civilian casualties and entire cities were essentially wiped off the face of the earth. Memories of that level of destruction just don't fade.

It is important to remember this when we look at these photos showing what looks like the shadow of a population. Showing any weakness just opens them up for more punishment.

That being said, that flickr stream linked above is pretty amazing. You can't hide from your friends, I suppose.
posted by tmt at 5:27 AM on May 22, 2011


North Korea looks a lot cleaner than South Korea ^^
posted by meows at 8:57 AM on May 22, 2011


2nding Hawkeye's recommendation of Nothing to Envy. It really takes you into the lives of ordinary people in DPRK, and kind of lays out the rise and waiting-to-fall of the regime chronologically through their stories. As heartbreaking as it was at times, it also gave me some hope that the armor is cracking as more North Koreans get out.
posted by Rykey at 9:17 AM on May 22, 2011


It is important to remember this when we look at these photos showing what looks like the shadow of a population. Showing any weakness just opens them up for more punishment.

I don't know, somehow South Korea has overcome these memories and, in the last 15 years, has become a stable democracy and a G20 economy.

There is no suitable defense for a criminal regime.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:30 PM on May 22, 2011 [2 favorites]


Pictures of people standing rigidly

you know, because the cultural structure is rigid.

I just didn't enjoy these. No statement was made. We are making the statement for this person. The photographs are technically competent, though, as virtblue notes, perhaps over-overexposed.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 8:44 PM on May 22, 2011


It gets pretty weird in here every time we talk about DPRK. It's willfully fucked up; it's absurd and laughable; it's starving; it's terribly sad. All these things are true. I guess I understand the fascination with the images that come out of it...there's so little information from that it's hard not to gawk, even if new information only serves to heighten the mystery. But I am so conflicted by projects like this; they tend to turn the reality of North Korea's hungry, trampled people into a kind of clever puzzle that can be solved with a smart-enough artist's statement. Sad Kid. Big Building. Pretty Lady. Shiny Gun. Folly!

This particular project (along with a lot of other ones like it) skates too close to a ten-in-one sideshow for me.
posted by peachfuzz at 12:10 PM on May 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


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