The reasons for documenting contemporary North Korea are fully obvious. The difficulties of doing so are equally clear. The Kim dynasty holds the population in thrall with a mix of lies and violence that make Orwell's writings on totalitarianism seem tame by comparison. The state's machinery of coercion is not limited to its own people. In the 21st century, only North Korea has ventured to conduct nuclear explosions. Last year it torpedoed a South Korean corvette and shelled the island of Yeonpyeong.
With the same ruthless skill that it keeps its population in check and its enemies at bay, North Korea also keeps journalists in the dark. Any report about the country is merely a rough sketch of a giant puzzle, often contaminated with triumphalist propaganda or laced with speculation. My own photography is no exception.
During two prior trips inside North Korea, I strove to see beyond the state's meticulously orchestrated fictions. Pushing the limits of access proved to be complex and risky. And though the view from the center of Pyongyang was utterly fascinating, it was also undeniably restricted and distorted. Still, I feel an urgency to continue addressing this topic, to find more ways to add context and gain perspective.
Taking a step back, another sketch can be made of North Korea from the outside, by tracing the contours of the land, visiting the key flash points, scanning the fortifications, and interviewing escapees.
Thanks to a grant from the Magnum Foundation Emergency Fund I was able to document the 1400 km China-North Korean border this year. With the support of Emphasis backers, I will continue the next phase of the project by photographing the North-South Korean border and the DMZ.
The project budget covers only barebones reporting costs including travel, film, and accommodation. If the project is overfunded, it will contribute towards future exhibitions, self-publishing and new media presentations.
To see a preview of the photo book offered in the rewards visit http://www.behindthecurtains.net
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