Friday, September 30, 2016


Took a stroll through photojournalist Wong Maye-E's 'NORTH OF THE DMZ' at Objectifs. Based in Singapore, she's currently the lead photographer for North Korea at the Associated Press (AP) and has accumulated a rich spectrum of photos showcasing life in North Korea, or as much as she could glean and push during her (restricted and supervised) time there these past two years.

In Maye-E's words at this exhibition,

I travel to North Korea about once a month for about ten days at a time, and my understanding of North Korea grows after every trip. Despite the limitations of access, I use these opportunities of repeated visits to see beyond the control and propaganda of military parades and mass celebrations. With patience, there are always opportunities to capture life in North Korea beyond what is presented to us. 
I look for unguarded moments in North Korea where much of what we are able to see can be scripted and controlled. I hope my photographs will offer audiences a fresh glimpse of life North of the Demilitarized Zone.

I follow Maye-E's travels on Instagram. She has posted many photos of her trips to North Korea. It's really quite nice to see her beautifully composed shots and eye for the framing blown up large on the walls of an exhibition space. There're shots of soldiers and military parades, and many focus on the people going about their everyday jobs and lives. But we know journalists and visitors have eagle-eyed minders who might look at what the cameras have captured. It begets the question of how much of this is real as seen through the superficial layers, and what else the camera lens could extract from the light and shadows. The exhibition is held till 15 October. Totally worth your 30 minutes lingering over these shots.

Tourists and foreigners aren't allowed to ride the Pyongyang commuter trains on the Chollima line for more than two stops. The humans don't look too happy. But you see women workers at a factory smiling widely as they unwind at the sauna after a day's work. It's indeed a strange country. The exhibition's publicity photos include this one of a bridal couple at Moranbong (Moran Hill) where they were taking wedding shots. They aren't smiling either. Dunno if it's the trend not to smile or it's only for this series that Maye-E requested them to simply look into the lens.

One photo that jumped out at me is this one of a boy holding a toy pistol looking directly at the camera. Our current global political situation is precarious enough, and every day brings bad news of humans killing one another. May this photo not foreshadow the path of North Korea's future.

Captioned: 'A young boy plays with a toy pistol as people gather around a gazebo at the Moranbong (Moran Hill), May 2015'.

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