Issue 01

Pyongyang, DPRK

Scenes from the People’s Paradise - Pyongyang

In March 2019 I was invited to take images for an upcoming book on hotels in Pyongyang, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I jumped at the chance and soon found myself buckled into an old airplane flying from Beijing to the capital of the DPRK, reading an inflight magazine article about the recent summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un.

There is a certain amount of disconnect you have to achieve to be comfortable in a place like Pyongyang. Arriving there, I had to forget about the DPRK’s status in the world and concentrate on getting to know people at ground level. Our guides where very intelligent, witty, but stern when the situation demanded. Each person made an impression on me, and it was strange and sad to realise our communication would end abruptly once I left.

Scenes from the People’s Paradise includes images that where taken during the “in-between” times of my commission – while travelling to different hotels, during meal breaks, walks around the city and even from the moving car. I was struck visually by the city’s unusual colours, and grand structures, and the darkly clothed figures moving amongst them, almost like actors on a symmetrical stage. The architecture was reflective of the Soviet influence, but also futuristic. I was absolutely fascinated. Pyongyang was once called the People’s Paradise: a place for the North Korean people to be proud of, a jewel to show off to the outside world, and a lure to repatriate Koreans who had left the country. It is certainly beautiful on the surface, but Pyongyang is also a place that is virtually impossible to capture with truth, which I have come to terms with, as you can only photograph what you see, well, some of the time, if you are allowed.