Monday, April 9, 2007

North Korea Photo Exhibit

Just a hop, skip and missile flight away from Japan
(すみません) lies the DPRK, or Democratic People's Republic of Korea, more commonly referred to as North Korea. Photographer Philippe Chancel has a current photo exhibit in London called "DPRK" that might be of interest to visual anthropologists and East Asian specialists.

According to a recent article in the Daily Yomiuri by Katherine Hyde (4/7/07), "DPRK" is an observation of everyday life in North Korea. Each photo is taken exactly as the eye sees it and Chancel frequently uses a direct, straight-on camera angle to document life there.

"When you are a photographer, sometimes you do not get what you expect. In North Korea everything was like a real dream for a photographer," Chancel says, explaining, "The choreography is fantastic... [everyday] I expected something magical - like an invisible choreographer - to manage everything for me."

To read the complete Yomiuri article, click on the following link:

"A French photographer's peek inside North Korea"

See Chancel's photos from his web page:

philippe chancel

You can navigate to see other projects by Chancel as well.

Many of the photos in "DPRK" do seem choreographed, official, dogmatic, clean... rather than illustrations of everyday life. Or perhaps we should question whose everyday life we are talking about. Chancel's photos are very good in artistic quality, and he makes no claim to be a journalist or anthropologist, but still there is a particular bias in this representation of the DPRK. These are pictures that the west would expect North Korea to present (or allowed to be presented) as everyday life.

"What sort of images are these? They are not false images, that should be noted straight away... but they are decontextualized images" (Martinez 1997: 108). Martinez is talking about representation of the Japanese education system in British documentaries, but the same sort of logic works for Chancel's photos as well. Fragmented images tell us little about North Korea, rather they tell us what we think we already know about North Korea.

Martinez, D.P. (1997) "Burlesquing knowledge: Japanese quiz shows and models of knowledge" in Rethinking Visual Anthropology, Marcus Banks and Howard Morphey, eds. New Haven and London: Yale University Press.

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