[KS] North Korean images: some further thoughts

Afostercarter at aol.com Afostercarter at aol.com
Sun Aug 7 03:32:58 EDT 2011

Dear friends and colleagues,
Many thanks for these interesting and varied  comments.
Perhaps I should clarify why I felt moved to post this  link:
1. As a general rule: If I run across something  interesting
about Korea in a non-Koreanist outlet - eg The Atlantic  -
then I like to spread the word among  fellow-Koreanists,
lest they would miss it. Don't other  people feel that way?
It's called gemeinschaft.
2. While various political points might be made,  actually
my own reaction this time was primarily  aesthetic.
In a new book hot off the press*, Kate Hext and I  ponder
what is involved in making art of the DPRK as one  form of
engagement. There's a lot of this now, and it's very  various.
What really grabbed me was Guttenfelder's o so  painterly
first shot in the sequence. Those astonishing blue  hues!
3. I am well aware, as I imagine are many on this  list
- but perhaps not all, which is why it's comradely to share  -
that there are now thousands of interesting images of 
North Korea available. Flickr alone has  Kernbeisser,
Ray Cunningham and many others. The latter kindly
links to his own favourite photographers of the  DPRK here:
There are books of photographs too. I count at least five 
coffee-table large-format picture books of  North Korea. 
It's interesting to compare them, as I did  briefly in a 
long working paper for the aforementioned book chapter.
This section I take the liberty of appending.
4. Finally, even the world's priciest photographer has got 
in on the NK act. Hext and I discuss  this in our chapter. See also
All in all, there really is a bit more to this topic than  just
'yeah yeah, been there, done that, got the  tee-shirt.'
Kind regards
Aidan FC
Aidan  Foster-Carter 
Honorary Senior Research  Fellow in Sociology & Modern Korea, Leeds 
University, UK 
E: _afostercarter at aol.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at aol.com)      
_afostercarter at yahoo.com_ (mailto:afostercarter at yahoo.com)    W: _www.aidanfc.net_ 
Flat 1,  40 Magdalen Road,  Exeter,  Devon,  EX2 4TE,  England,  UK 
T: (+44, no 0)     07970 741307 (mobile);     01392 257753 (home)    
Skype:  Aidan.Foster.Carter   Twitter:  @fcaidan    
* DPRKrazy, Sexy, Cool: The  Art of Engaging North Korea.    
Ch. 2, pp 31-50 in  Rüdiger Frank (Ed.), Exploring North Korean Arts.  
Nuremberg: Verlag  für moderne Kunst Nürnberg, for Vienna University/MAK, 
2011. Available from the latter at 
(http://www.makdesignshop.at/index.php?cat=8&page=8&id=1615)    (It doesn't seem to be on Amazon yet.) 
Every  picture tells a story 
[Paragraph on Guy Delisle_[1]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn1)  
More common are photographic books about North Korea,  some seeking to make 
art of it in their own way. In The Last Paradise (2003) Nicolas  Righetti, 
a Swiss photojournalist, sets  images often garish and grainy – some taken 
from video – alongside  snippets of text and commentary (official and 
unofficial) printed in white on a  green background. The effect is striking, if 
unsettling. At least two Amazon  customers missed the point, complaining that 
the pictures are poor quality; but  others defend him as “puckish.” A later 
book on Turkmenistan – where else! – is  similar in conception, but the 
photography appears more conventional. _[2]_ 
By contrast, the images in the British photographer  Charlie Crane’s 
Welcome to Pyongyang (2007) are crystal clear. The book itself is more ambiguous. 
The ubiquitous  Nick Bonner is credited as “collaborator and producer,” so 
at one level this  could be read as a puff for Koryo Tours; the book begins 
with a “Welcome to  Korea” from an official tourism guidebook.  The 
photographs are sites on Pyongyang’s tourist trail, often with a  posed guide or 
employee whose presumed voice (not actually in quotation marks)  is the sole 
caption or explanation. Thus Yong Ran, incongruous in hanbok in front of a 
large machine at  the Three Revolutions Exhibition: “All the parts of this 
electronically  controlled hydraulic excavator are made in my country.” (About 
half way through;  the book has no index, contents list or pagination.)  
Bonner says in his introduction: “What we present [here]  is Pyongyang on 
its own terms.” Whereas most works considered above would be  anathema to the 
DPRK, this book no doubt must pass muster with the authorities.  Fair 
enough; and intriguing to learn that “There are no photography exhibitions  [in 
North Korea] for aesthetic purposes only. Photography is not regarded as an  
art form in its own right.” But Bonner is on thinner ice in telling the 
would-be  visitor: “There is little background reading that will help prepare 
you … You  would be better advised to travel with an open mind.” Does that 
mean an empty  mind? Or is there a sub-text: Of course we know and they know 
that this is all  theatre, so just relax and enjoy the show?_[3]_ 
(aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn3)   We have come a long way from Chris 
Marker_[4]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn4) ,  half a century earlier – and 
not forwards. 
There is competition here from at least three other  photo-essay books on 
North Korea: by Philippe Chancel,_[5]_ 
(aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn5)   Mark Edward Harris,_[6]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn6)   and 
Christian Kracht et al._[7]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn7)   Space 
precludes a detailed review. Chancel’s award-winning work gives a wider if  
still somewhat sanitised – unlike the accompanying texts – view of 
Pyongyang.  Harris ventures outside the capital, and beyond Sunday-best appearances; 
he has  since published a similar book on Iran. Kracht is a well-known 
German  controversialist; his essay, accompanying photographs by Eva Munz and 
Lukas  Nikol, depicts North Korea as a “maniacal theatric play.” Who knew? 
The real  lives of most North Koreans, far from Pyongyang, hardly make such 
coffee-table  fodder. But plenty of images can be found online, from the 
everyday to the  desperate._[8]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn8)   Flickr 
alone has over 48,000 photographs of the DPRK, including the fine work of  
Eric Lafforgue._[9]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftn9)  


_[1]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref1)  Guy  Delisle, Pyongyang: 
A Journey in North  Korea. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly, 2005. (First 
published in French,  2003.) Also 
_[2]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref2)  Nicolas Righetti,  The 
Last Paradise: North Korea Brooklyn NY: Umbrage, 2003. Slideshow and article 
at _http://www.theglobalist.com/storyid.aspx?StoryId=4114_ 
(http://www.theglobalist.com/storyid.aspx?StoryId=4114)  . More images – be  sure to enlarge –
(http://www.photoeye.com/BookteaseLight/bookteaselight.cfm?catalog=PY111ℑ=1)  . For complaints  and defence, see 
(http://www.amazon.com/Last-Paradise-Nicolas-Righetti/dp/1884167322)  For Righetti’s  images of Turkmenistan, 
see slideshow at  _http://www.lensculture.com/righetti.html_ 

_[3]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref3)  Charlie Crane, Welcome to 
Pyongyang. London: Boot,  2007.  

_[4]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref4)  Both the  original text 
of his extraordinary Coréennes (Paris: Seuil, 1959) and Marker’s reflections 
38 years later can be  read in English at 
_http://www.markertext.com/coreenes.htm_ (http://www.markertext.com/coreenes.htm) . A recent Korean  edition 
(Seoul: Noonbit, 2008) is available at 
_http://store.wexnercenterstore.com/chmaco.html_ (http://store.wexnercenterstore.com/chmaco.html)  

_[5]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref5)  Philippe Chancel,  with 
texts by Michel Poivert and Jonathan Fenby, North Korea. London: Thames & 
Hudson  2006. Many of his images can be seen at 
_http://www.philippechancel.com_ (http://www.philippechancel.com/)  . 

_[6]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref6)  Mark Edward  Harris, with 
a foreword by Bruce Cumings, Inside North Korea. San Francisco:  Chronicle, 
2007 . Some images available at 
_http://www.markedwardharris.com/gallery_NKorea.html_ (http://www.markedwardharris.com/gallery_NKorea.html)  

_[7]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref7)  Christian Kracht,  Eva 
Munz, Lukas Nikol, The Ministry of  Truth: Kim Jong Il’s North Korea. Los 
Angeles: Feral House, 2007 (Original: Die totale  Erinnerung: Kim Jong Ils  
Nordkorea. Rogner & Bernhard, 2006). See also 
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2008/jan/15/korea.photography)   and 
(http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/gallery/2008/jan/15/photography.korea)   for images and discussion 

_[8]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref8)   Fine collections include 
(http://www.boston.com/bigpicture/2009/04/peering_into_north_korea.html)  and 

_[9]_ (aoldb://mail/write/template.htm#_ftnref9)  
_http://www.ericlafforgue.com/dprk.htm_ (http://www.ericlafforgue.com/dprk.htm) 

Re [KS] Striking photographs of the DPRK from AP's David  Guttenfelder, in 
The Atlantic
McCann, David _dmccann  at fas.harvard.edu _ 
(mailto:koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws?Subject=Re:%20[KS]%20Striking%20photographs%20of%20the%20DPRK%20from
    AP's    David   
Guttenfelder,%20in%20The%20Atlantic&In-Reply-To=<B21BB02B-435A-4F2B-AFCD-0E0F347F7944 at fas.harvard.edu>) 
Sat  Aug 6 09:07:45 EDT 2011  
    *   Previous message: _[KS]  Striking photographs of the DPRK from AP's 
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(http://koreaweb.ws/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws/2011-August/date.html#8793)  _[  thread ]_ 
_[  subject ]_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/pipermail/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws/2011-August/subject.html#8793)  _[  author ]_ 
Isn't there a curious irony to the notion that on the one hand North  

Korea has a reputation for being forbidden or inaccessible, while on  

the other, any paying customer can visit the places the AP reporter  

photoed?  Especially given the fact that "large parts of North  

Korea ... are off-limits."

The challenge of these notions,  though, is to determine where the  

crux of the irony is located.  What plays against what else for ironic  

effect?  For one set I would propose "sign up on a tour" versus  

"forbidden or inaccessible to foreigners."

I have also heard it reported on good authority-- a former NASA  

astronaut with three space flights and continuing work with the  

Agency-- that in the not-too-distant future, space flights, earth  

orbit or eventually even the moon, will be available to anyone who can  

pay to go.

What precisely is the point that Charles and Michael seem to wish to  

register?  That any schmuck with a camera can take pictures of those  

government-approved places and those people in North Korea?  I think,  

ironically, that Aidan made exactly that same point, only-- as Charles  

and Michael both noted-- they were indeed done well.

David McCann

On Aug 5, 2011, at 11:21 AM, Charles K. Armstrong wrote:

> With all due respect to Aidan, I agree with Michael that there wasn't
> anything particularly unprecedented or striking about the subject
> matter of the photos, although they were done well. There is a
> widespread notion that North Korea remains  forbidden or inaccessible
> to foreigners, and while there are certainly large parts of North
> Korea that are off-limits, pretty much any paying customer from North
> America or Europe can sign up on a tour and see the sights that the AP
> reporters visited.
> -- 
> Charles K. Armstrong
> Professor of History
> Director, Center for Korean Research
> Columbia University
> 930 International Affairs Building
> 420 West 118th Street
> New York, NY 10027
> Tel: 212-854-1721
> Fax: 212-749-1497
> Quoting "Robinson, Michael E." <_robime at indiana.edu_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) >:
>> These are very nice, but not new scenes.  Very standard by my eye,
>> but nice to have a professional do them.
>> Mike Robinson
>> From: _koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws_ 
>> [mailto:_koreanstudies-bounces at koreaweb.ws_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) ] On Behalf Of
>> _Afostercarter at aol.com_ 
>> Sent: Friday, August 05, 2011 6:00 AM
>> To: _Koreanstudies at koreaweb.ws_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) ; _baks at jiscmail.ac.uk_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) ; _members at asck.org_ 
>> Cc: _coyner at gol.com_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) ; _news at nknews.org_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) ; _nkeconwatch at gmail.com_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) ;
>> _Philip at londonkoreanlinks.net_ 
(http://koreaweb.ws/mailman/listinfo/koreanstudies_koreaweb.ws) ; _nkleadershipwatch at gmail.com_ 
>> Subject: [KS] Striking photographs of the DPRK from AP's David
>> Guttenfelder, in The Atlantic
>> _http://www.theatlantic.com/infocus/2011/08/inside-north-korea/100119/_ 
>> Inside North Korea
>> AUG 2, 2011 |
>> >
>> Earlier this year, David Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer for
>> the Associated Press, along with Jean H. Lee, AP bureau chief in
>> Seoul, were granted unprecedented access to parts of North Korea as
>> part of the AP's efforts to expand coverage of the isolated
>> communist nation. The pair made visits to familiar sites accompanied
>> by government minders, and were also allowed to travel into the
>> countryside accompanied by North Korean journalists instead of
>> government officials. Though much of what the AP journalists saw was
>> certainly orchestrated, their access was still remarkable.
>> Collected  here are some of Guttenfelder's images from the trip that
>> provide a  glimpse of North Korea. [37
>> >]

    *   Previous message: _[KS]  Striking photographs of the DPRK from AP's 
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