North Korea // The Power of Dreams // Book available in the Shop
If there were such a thing as a “true picture of reality” in North Korea, it would certainly need to be taken from many different perspectives. At best, only a few facets of this reality are offered in our media, and they mainly paint a picture of a drab and bleak society trapped somewhere between nuclear madness and mass psychotic monotony. This is all true, but it is not the whole truth. The same applies to the bulletins that Pyongyang releases to the world to suggest the normality of their society. If one wants to form a personal view of this apparently faceless country, it is best to let the photographs speak for themselves, since they can help capture the reality behind the carefully maintained facade, telling of sorrows, anxieties, desires, and even dreams, in stark contrast to the decreed communal happiness.
Three times in the last five years I have come to this land with my camera, on the road in a country where casually taken pictures could trigger painful repression, especially for the people in front of the camera. I’ve been on the lookout in North Korea, where the individual is a ghost and the collective appears to reign, but where the “Trinity” determines everything. While the first visit mostly had to follow the predictable script as laid down by a state-organized tour, my second trip was dominated by the goal of lifting the curtain on the backstage area of the at times surreal scenes acted out for me in this land that had inexplicably placed me under its spell. I wanted to find the people behind the mask of uniformity, and I had some successful responses, albeit sporadic and still somewhat reserved.
When I returned this year for the third time, I arrived in a country that felt as if it had changed—changes largely unnoticed by the world at large, but detectable nevertheless, because the people had changed. Small amounts of individual space, calmly but persistently sought out, can someday add up to freedom on a larger scale. The photographic documentation of this process is therefore the purpose of my third visit to North Korea. It will not be my last.
These individuals live with dignity and survive through the power of their dreams, which they let me glimpse with my camera. Their faces tell stories that bring us closer to this country whose people deserve our full attention and, more, our unprejudiced sympathy.