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The North Korea of the Privileged
September 9, 2008 9:36 AM   Subscribe

North Korea: A rare photographic insight into a very foreign country
posted by dawson (34 comments total) 7 users marked this as a favorite

 
Customers wait for their pictures in a photography store in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital. Although the lights are turned off inside the store to save electricity, the computers handling customer orders are powered up.

I don't get why this is remarkable. "Environmentalism = authoritarianism" nonsense?
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on September 9, 2008


DU, it seems like a simple observation.

Although there is no question that North Korea's government is totalitarian.
posted by sondrialiac at 9:48 AM on September 9, 2008


It seems like there's a new "rare photographic insight" into North Korea touted online about once a month.
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 9:50 AM on September 9, 2008 [9 favorites]


DU, it seems like a simple observation.

It doesn't read that way. There's a limited number of pictures and all the others highlight some detail of life in a totalitarian regime. Plus one about saving electricity. Wha?
posted by DU at 9:52 AM on September 9, 2008


Apparently, Kim Jong-il is not doing so well these days.
posted by Dasein at 9:53 AM on September 9, 2008


Thanks for this post. I enjoyed the images. Some of the captions do read with a more editorial slant than others. I was especially confused by the mention of the Olympics in the image of the older women at the river (#7).
posted by juliplease at 9:56 AM on September 9, 2008


See also here, undoubtedly posted on the blue sometime previously.
posted by the dief at 9:59 AM on September 9, 2008


it seems like a simple observation.

Doesn't it seem like most have a little finale similar to that, like a reminder that all is not well?
"Here are happy people singing songs at the beach. HAPPY PEOPLE WHO WILL BE LOCKED UP EVERYNIGHT WHEN CURFEW AND LIGHTS OUT START"
posted by mannequito at 9:59 AM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


"Environmentalism = authoritarianism" nonsense?

Yeah, it's poverty, not environmentalism. Also, it needed explaining why the store interior was dark.
posted by grobstein at 10:01 AM on September 9, 2008


It doesn't read that way. There's a limited number of pictures and all the others highlight some detail of life in a totalitarian regime. Plus one about saving electricity. Wha?

It's not an environmentalism issue; indeed, the North Korean government is notorious for extremely destructive environmental policies, such as essentially destroying the topsoil in farming areas through overuse of fertilizers. Examples of relatively unspoiled areas in the country are more a result of the failure of the economy than any sound policy. Instead, this picture highlights that North Korea's power grid is hugely insufficient for even the limited demands of its economy. It's long been held up as an example of the ineptitude of the regime: even in Pyongyang, the power is frequently cut and streets and buildings are not lit at night save for the major monuments. Once consequence of this is the extremely dramatic shots from satellites showing an almost completely dark country at night. They're not saving power because they want to or because it's a good idea, but because they have to.
posted by monocyte at 10:05 AM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


DU, it's mentioned because North Korea simply doesn't have enough electricity generation capacity.
posted by zsazsa at 10:08 AM on September 9, 2008


Right: the Grand People's Study House towers over Kim Il Sung Square. The building can hold 30 million books although allegedly it only contains a few thousand volumes...

Something deeply symbolic about that.
posted by Avenger at 10:16 AM on September 9, 2008


Apparently, Kim Jong-il is not doing so well these days.

Probably busy knocking out his list of 50.

Kill people
Vote in Ohio
Write 2000 plays
Play Beirut with cognac
Kidnap starlets
State-sponsored famine
Do all the blondes in Sweden
...
Open a barber and cobbler college
posted by jsavimbi at 10:20 AM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese: "It seems like there's a new "rare photographic insight" into North Korea touted online about once a month."

I was thinking the same thing. One of the panels said that tours are very costly. Perhaps North Korea is capitalizing on its exclusivity by charging outrageous rates for western tourists to see staged sets and buy exspensive artwork. Proceeds go to the the "elite" class to buy Dell computers.
posted by stbalbach at 10:40 AM on September 9, 2008


These are photos of affluent, elite North Koreans, clearly taken on a well-minded official "tour". Not such a rare photographic insight....more like safari photography.
posted by availablelight at 10:47 AM on September 9, 2008


I haven't seen people using computers in previous photos, so I think it was interesting.
posted by sondrialiac at 11:28 AM on September 9, 2008


These tour photos aren't as uncommon as they might have been before. I linked to another set a while ago, vice did a short video documentary in North Korea, etc. That doesn't make the photos any less interesting to see. North Korea is a bizarre country. It'd be amazing to see photos of the country side, how people are actually living, etc. I don't know how that is going to happen. I imagine it's difficult to sneak in and out of the country.
posted by chunking express at 11:40 AM on September 9, 2008


I thought it was interesting to see computers with windows XP -- I thought there was an embargo on exporting software containing certain crypto routines into NK .
posted by boo_radley at 11:46 AM on September 9, 2008


Do you really think they're paying for their copies?
posted by stavrogin at 11:56 AM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Here is a more distant and less colorful set of pictures.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:08 PM on September 9, 2008


I thought it was interesting to see computers with windows XP -- I thought there was an embargo on exporting software containing certain crypto routines into NK .

Yeah well, until the Glorious People's Open Source Revolution spreads to North Korea, they'll be getting by with pirated copes of XP. Just like 90% of Windows users.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:16 PM on September 9, 2008


Apparently, Kim Jong-il is not doing so well these days.

Yea, I heard he only got 6 holes-in-one during his last round of golf.
posted by clearly at 12:20 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


But hey, it's not all that foreign of a country if you live in North Korea. Amirite?
posted by miss lynnster at 12:27 PM on September 9, 2008


Also:
Citizens of the PRNK aboard a train outside one of the two stations that tourists are permitted to visit in Pyongyang. Normally North Koreans are forbidden from talking to foreigners or having their photographs taken by them.
Oopsie poopsie! Thankfully there are no North Korean officials living abroad who could report any of these traitors in this photo essay to the authorities. Unless of course the qualifier "normally" means "unless they are being photographed by tourists" or something.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 12:36 PM on September 9, 2008


Yea, I heard he only got 6 holes-in-one during his last round of golf.
Unfortunately this involved a double-action revolver and a peasant.
posted by Wolfdog at 12:37 PM on September 9, 2008


vice did a short video documentary in North Korea, etc.

The Vice Guide to North Korea

Totalitarianism at its best.
posted by limited slip at 1:41 PM on September 9, 2008 [2 favorites]


Setting the interesting location aside, these are really dull, banal, overexposed poorly composed tourist snapshots. I like to imagine in this one that the statue is flipping us the bird just out of frame, and that everyone's bowing forward to compensate for the tilted horizon line.
posted by ook at 2:01 PM on September 9, 2008


That country is going to go through a traumatic experience never seen before once the embargo lifts and they try to reconnect to the rest of the world... the east-germany reunification was a piece of cake compared to what's to come...
posted by DreamerFi at 2:19 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


One day the South Koreans will realize they haven't seen anyone from the North near the DMZ for several weeks. They'll decide to go in...and there will be nobody there at all, nobody left in the entire country.


I know that won't actually be the case, but it makes for an appropriate image to keep in mind.
posted by Xoebe at 2:41 PM on September 9, 2008


Dreamerfi, this is why South Korea has considerable economic interest in maintaining the status quo. Them and China. Nobody wants to live next door to a country that's regressed to the iron age and whose borders are suddenly opened.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 4:50 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


Inside North Korea
Chang W. Lee, a photographer for the New York Times, got a rare outsider's glimpse of North Korea during a trip he took as part of a contingent of journalists traveling with the New York Philharmonic for a landmark concert.
posted by mlis at 5:38 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


I don't get why this is remarkable. "Environmentalism = authoritarianism" nonsense?

Check out this satellite photo. Compare and contrast. Pretty much speaks for itself, I reckon.

Dreamerfi, this is why South Korea has considerable economic interest in maintaining the status quo.

After living here and watching the way these things go for more than a decade now, I'm pretty much convinced that the successive South Korean administrations since I first arrived -- those of Kim Young Sam, Kim Dae Jun, Noh Moo Hyun and now Lee Myung Bak -- are quite firmly against anything but the most gradual and incremental steps toward any reunification, precisely because the upheavals in the South Korean economy would be catastrophic, if, given Korea's history of overcoming adversity, possibly shorter-term than many predict. There would be a massive flood of poor heading south, and rebuilding the north's economy and infrastructure while absorbing the economic refugees would be a task whose magnitude terrifies the government.

On the other hand, the chaebols (massive, family-owned conglomerates that effectively own and govern the country) can't wait for cheap labour and land and an untapped new market of more than 20,000,000 people.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 9:46 PM on September 9, 2008 [1 favorite]


These rare photographic insights are getting really tired. Even if you show your tourist snaps with a suitably standoffish irony about how carefully staged your guided tour was, they're still just tourist snaps.

The world is waiting for a real photo essay that documents what the rest of the country is going through. Has this already been produced, and I just missed it? Is the country really so well insulated that such pictures can't make it out? The country is pretty big -- surely someone could smuggle in a few digital cameras and a satellite phone.
posted by CaseyB at 2:13 PM on September 10, 2008


My Excellent North Korean Adventure
posted by mlis at 12:10 PM on September 16, 2008


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