(Im)possible to see:North Korea

More than 70 photos selected specifically for exhibition in Russia are united by one main idea — to show the possibilities of photography in the study of the image of one of the most secretive states. Exhibition is complemented with chronicle photos taken by Soviet photographers in the middle — second half of the XX century, giving the opportunity to show the range of the DPRK perception in different cultural and temporal contexts.

“Photography is a way to explore the world, including its inaccessible parts. It has always performed this function and even today, in spite of the ability to quickly cover distances, we learn a lot of things only through the images and accompanying texts. This is especially true for closed states access to which is restricted or impossible for political reasons. But in the end the image is shaped only through mass media and is often mythologized, and North Korea, perhaps, is the most striking example. Another difficulty is that even once in country, it is almost impossible to shoot, because the government is constantly monitoring any man with a camera. Therefore, the authors daring to tell something about the DPRK through the photo, are looking for ways to do it”, comments chief curator of The Lumiere Brothers Center for Photography Natalia Grigorieva-Litvinskaya on the idea of the exhibition.

(Im)possible to see: North Korea presents the works of contemporary authors, each of whom in their own way solved the problems of creativity in a strictly defined framework. Exhibition includes works by such authors as Wang Guofeng (China), Martin Parr (UK), Philippe Chancel (France), Alice Wiellinga (Netherlands), Eric Lafforgue (France), Matt Paish (UK), Matjaž Tančič (Slovenia), Oliver Wainwright (UK), Eddo Hartman (Netherlands). They all visited the DPRK recently and each of them managed to see a closed society, focusing on details, often imperceptible to the naked eye.

It would seem that the camera captures usual things — architecture, interiors, mass festivals, group and individual portraits, hidden everyday life. But through these stories authors are exploring the topic of mass and individual, fictional and real, capabilities of editing, and turn to topics of frozen time and communication between people.

The exhibition also includes photos taken during the years of friendship between the USSR and the DPRK, when photography played a huge role in shaping of ideologically balanced image of “friendly socialist country”. Combination of contemporary and archival materials, showing similarities and differences in themes, narratives, and ways of display also raises question about the boundaries of photography and possibilities of perception. “This comparison gives opportunity to show exactly how different are the roles that photography play in relation to ideology. The works of contemporary authors become a kind of optics for reportage series and identify the new meanings of the images”, believes curator of the project Olga Annanurova.

Many series included in the exhibition were presented as part of personal and joint exhibitions at leading museums and galleries around the world. In particular, the works of Wang Guofeng were presented at the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) (South Korea) and at the gallery De Sarthe in Beijing, Matjaž Tančič – at the art gallery Pékin Fine Arts (Hong Kong), Philippe Chancel and Alice Vellinga – in the framework of photo festival Les Rencontres d’Arles (Arles, France), Eddo Hartmann – at the photography museum Huis Marseille (Amsterdam, Netherlands) and the Seoul Museum of Art (SeMA) (South Korea). Also, the works of Matjaž Tančič, Philippe Chancel and Alice Wiellinga became part of the group exhibition “North Korean Perspectives” at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College (Chicago, USA).

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