rare glimpses
November 20, 2013 9:13 PM   Subscribe

 
So much urban space, so few people. Is this a deliberate turn of the camera toward more vacant areas, or do people really never actually do anything that takes them out and about?
posted by hippybear at 9:20 PM on November 20, 2013


That swing shaped like a rocket...
posted by Windigo at 9:22 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Here's another series by the same photographer, via National Geographic.
posted by 23 at 9:32 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


That park swing looks very safe (not). I'm assuming it's motorised, not manual.

I liked this comment:

William toh
How come you did not took any picture of the food?

Very droll.
posted by unliteral at 9:34 PM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Another series from the Daily Beast.
posted by gingerest at 9:35 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Very few cars on the street. All the students at the computers are bundled up, can't be much heating in that space.
posted by arcticseal at 9:55 PM on November 20, 2013 [2 favorites]


Very interesting photos. I wonder how truly "uncensored" these are--I would think that the authorities limit where Guttenfelder can actually go and point his camera. Not that that would be unique to photojournalism in North Korea.
posted by domnit at 9:55 PM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


North Koreans get all the cool playground toys.
posted by Annika Cicada at 10:18 PM on November 20, 2013


hippybear: "So much urban space, so few people. Is this a deliberate turn of the camera toward more vacant areas, or do people really never actually do anything that takes them out and about?"

For one thing, North Korea has a massive underground transit system. The majority of people during the day if they are using transit, if they aren't on bicycles, are using the subway.

Here's some video
posted by symbioid at 10:22 PM on November 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


Very few cars on the street

Yeah I noticed that too. Perhaps building roads with 3 lanes in both directions was overkill
posted by Hoopo at 10:27 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


Like going back in time 40 years. If these really are uncensored, I hope there's no negative consequences for any recognizable people in the photos. The sound man looks a little unnerved about being photographed.
posted by TrialByMedia at 10:48 PM on November 20, 2013 [1 favorite]


From the Daily Beast photos:

A quasi-religious mystique surrounding the Kim family has been developed over two generations.

Uhh, yeah? Maybe I've been affected by too much propaganda myself but...

Perhaps the new dictator for life is really changing things substantially and there is great hope that he will be, and it will be an awkward process, but I watched this Nat Geo documentary awhile back and everything VICE has done on the subject going back a couple of years (and they're mostly good, respectful documentaries in my recollection, up to and including the recent HBO / Dennis Rodman one despite all of the VICE haterade) and am getting a vibe that either they exaggerated just how terribly spooky fucked up everything really is, or they didn't have as much of an effect as I thought they would after previous softball documentaries from decades earlier.

...I was turned onto VICE particularly due to these docs (and yes this problematic unrelated one enjoyed to death) before they were hated by cool people and it seems like DPRK's PR is picking up steam somehow. Such a mindfuck it all is.

Those photos seemed to be almost buying into the pretense that Pyongyang is at all representative of the way typical North Koreans live. Which of course is not what they're explicitly saying, but without speaking to the way that Pyongyang is pretty much a privileged dog and pony show for an extreme minority of the population in a country that largely goes dark at night, there seems to be a glaring omission. Or I could myself be brainwashed. Again, mindfuck!

Of course there are parallels with the US and every other country with metropolitan areas and downtrodden areas, and maybe that Nat Geo documentary and the various VICE videos really colored my perception (yes) and maybe Kim Jong-un really is changing things. I thought this article was fascinating, BTW, and it's not at all respectful and is pretty damned flippant, which is strange to me, initially discovering VICE due to their earlier NK docs.
posted by lordaych at 10:51 PM on November 20, 2013




It's been a few years now since I was in Pyongyang, but this looks a lot like what I remember. A little busier, and more candid photos -- which I hope is a sign of the loosening of relationships and of society. The tour company said that the interactions had become much warmer in the time they had been doing tours -- people waved back if you waved at them, for instance.

So much urban space, so few people. Is this a deliberate turn of the camera toward more vacant areas, or do people really never actually do anything that takes them out and about?

This is what the middle of Pyongyang looks like, in the middle of the day. Infrastructure in North Korea is usually at least partly aspirational and partly demonstrational (as propaganda) in addition to being functional.


Very interesting photos. I wonder how truly "uncensored" these are--I would think that the authorities limit where Guttenfelder can actually go and point his camera. Not that that would be unique to photojournalism in North Korea.

On my visit, genuine interactions were very rare indeed. At one point, we convinced our guide to stop in an empty public square in Nampo -- a perfectly decent looking square, with a large Kim Il Sung statue -- nothing to be ashamed about or hidden or anything of the sort. Within five minutes, someone with an officious bearing who had materialized out of nowhere was speaking to our guide and very shortly we were back on the bus.


For one thing, North Korea has a massive underground transit system. The majority of people during the day if they are using transit, if they aren't on bicycles, are using the subway.
Here's some video yt

When I took that same trip from Puhung to Yonggwang stations, the lights were just flickering on as we got into the station. A train pulled up, and a bunch of people got off, milled around the platform and then got back on and left the station again. The next train was ours. This seems much more genuine, again a hopeful sign.

The thing that always bothers me is looking at the photos and trying to find anyone who is elderly or disabled.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 11:22 PM on November 20, 2013 [11 favorites]


The thing that always bothers me is looking at the photos and trying to find anyone who is elderly or disabled.

Gosh, that's a chilling observation.
posted by Joe in Australia at 11:49 PM on November 20, 2013 [3 favorites]


Three unhelpful but common exaggerations about North Korea

"would a truly “secretive” state allow so many tourists in to take and publish these “rare images from the Hermit Kingdom?"

The useful idiot is alive and well.
posted by hat_eater at 12:05 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


hippybear, those are essential features of totalitarian architecture and urban planning, at least since the middle of last century. Lots has been written about how it de-emphasizes the individual and emphasizes the power of the state. See also: EUR, Rome; World Capital Germania (Hitler's vision for Berlin as an imperial capital of the greater Reich); and the Centrul Civic in Romania. And yes, as you can see, it is rather dysfunctional and orthogonal to what people want and need from cities (even less hierarchical instances are problematic in their own ways, such as Brasilia).

That park swing looks very safe (not). I'm assuming it's motorised, not manual.

Well, c'mon, we have those here -- I used to ride on one every year at the county fair. And we just had this in the US.
posted by dhartung at 12:25 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


People need to read Bruce Cumings
posted by Joseph Gurl at 12:56 AM on November 21, 2013


An Asian city which is not choked in smog and thronged with people and cars is a rare sight indeed. I don't see much in those photos that one would want to censor.

hippybear, those are essential features of totalitarian architecture and urban planning, at least since the middle of last century. Lots has been written about how it de-emphasizes the individual and emphasizes the power of the state.

You seem the same Soviet style architecture in Helsinki and Oslo and in the suburbs of Stockholm which suggests there might also just be some efficiency in it. Sometimes "the power of the state" is just used to build housing.
posted by three blind mice at 1:47 AM on November 21, 2013


My wife was in the USSR before it crumbled apart. The things that she misses to this day are the total absence of advertising in the streets and the simplicity of doing shopping in specialized centers (Kitchen house, Clothing house) which didn't have much choice -she still finds that most of the choice we're offered is useless - of course, avoiding to get relagated at the very end of the queue was the name of the game.
posted by nicolin at 3:19 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]


The thing that always bothers me is looking at the photos and trying to find anyone who is elderly or disabled.

1) Bunch of Korean War veterans photographed

2) and uh, Western media also avoids depicting them
posted by Renoroc at 4:48 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


They must not turn the heat on at the Grand People's Study House -- everyone is studying with coats and hats on.
posted by beagle at 5:44 AM on November 21, 2013 [2 favorites]




It's great to see these photos. It's kind of insane that "I was able to upload photos to Instagram" is such a breakthrough that it is news, no matter what the quality of the photos.

All of Pyongyang is censored; the city is regularly sanitized to be the presentable face for North Korea. Also it's one of the few places that got reliable food during the famine from 1994–1998 when the state-run economy collapsed.

There's this weird thing that happens on Metafilter and elsewhere where people try to say "North Korea isn't really that bad, the media is lying to us." It's worth reading reporting from primary sources. Barbara Demick's book Nothing to Envy is excellent as an overview of what life has been like inside the country, based on interviews with North Koreans who escaped the country.
posted by Nelson at 8:45 AM on November 21, 2013 [3 favorites]


I wonder how much of the drabness is real and how much is Instagram?
posted by gottabefunky at 10:37 AM on November 21, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, these Instagrams, they’re what we used to call "pictures"?
posted by bongo_x at 10:57 AM on November 21, 2013 [4 favorites]


Homeboy Trouble, I'm so picking your brains on NK at the next Calgary meet up. Which reminds me that we haven't had one for a while.
posted by arcticseal at 3:56 PM on November 21, 2013


You seem the same Soviet style architecture in Helsinki and Oslo and in the suburbs of Stockholm which suggests there might also just be some efficiency in it. Sometimes "the power of the state" is just used to build housing.

So cyclopean architecture can be emblematic of totalitarianism and/or Jante Law?

Mind you, one could probably classify various mediaeval cathedrals in the same category: vast edifices designed to instil the individual with a sense of awe of God (and, by proxy, His representatives) and of their own piddling insignificance in the scheme of things.
posted by acb at 3:57 PM on November 21, 2013


So cyclopean architecture can be emblematic of totalitarianism and/or Jante Law?

Yeah, Edmonton and Toronto have tons of brutalist concrete buildings, too (Homeboy can back me up on this). I think maybe places with short building seasons, awful winters, and relatively few high-thermal-mass building materials took full advantage of functional structuralism.
posted by gingerest at 8:47 PM on November 21, 2013


You seem the same Soviet style architecture in Helsinki and Oslo and in the suburbs of Stockholm which suggests there might also just be some efficiency in it. Sometimes "the power of the state" is just used to build housing.

Well, I was referring specifically to the vast public spaces, the empty highways, and the windswept plazas.

And in many cases the apartment block setup is also influenced by district heating (centralized steam generation).

To be sure, however, much is owed by both Stalinist/totalitarian urban configurations as well as many Western institutional uses such as college campuses and public housing to the 'city in a garden' ideas of the interwar period espoused by e.g. Le Corbusier. The thing is, in the West we learned -- by 1968 Pruitt-Igoe was coming down, by the 1970s Chicago had the Gautreaux decision mandating mixed-use and scattered-site public housing, and so on. There's little illusion today that building a 20-story apartment block and putting it in some lightly-maintained green space is going to halt poverty or even necessarily create a safe environment, but that was literally in the minds of the people who were building our urban infrastructure mid-last-century. With the inertia of the Soviet/party-state systems, however, these lessons were not learned to the same degree (also arguably may not have been negatively influenced the way our experiments were by being in the middle of other capitalistic structures such as the flight of jobs to low-wage labor markets). What I'm getting at is that we stopped this sort of building at least one and arguably two generations ago, and naturally look askance at it wherever we see it. It's an aesthetic, but it isn't necessarily seen the same way in context.

tons of brutalist concrete buildings, too

It needs to be said: Brutalism has very little, historically, to do with totalitarianism. I don't, to choose two prominent examples, believe that either Prentice Women's Hospital or Boston City Hall are essentially statist in their philosophy. The negative associations of Brutalism in the 21st century are legion and, to my mind, a temporary phenomenon similar to the rejection of Victorian architecture in the 20th century.
posted by dhartung at 10:33 AM on November 22, 2013


Le Corbusier's outlook in the 1930s was essentially authoritarian; the dedication of his The Radiant City reads “to Authority”.
posted by acb at 7:04 PM on November 22, 2013


« Older You're not supposed to be here.   |   So It's Come To This: The Case for the Simpsons... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments