Crossing the River

Situated in the Liaoning province, Dandong is China’s largest border city. It sits along the banks of the Yalu River, a waterway that acts as a natural border between China and North Korea. Zhou Yue, a photographer born and raised in Dandong, found himself insatiably curious about North Korea, a country that was so close in proximity yet so utterly unfamiliar to him. This led Zhou to venture across the border and shoot the photo series Crossing the River. Equipped with multiple cameras, a cell phone, and a film camera (which would be less likely to be inspected and confiscated), Zhou photographed the series over three separate trips.


周越,来自东北丹东,目前在台湾就读研究所的摄影师。《过江》的江指的是鸭绿江,鸭绿江所流经过的城市丹东,是中国最大的边境城市,而河的对岸就是朝鲜的领土,一个总是让外人看不清楚的神秘国度。周越带着多台相机、手机、和一台为了能躲避检查的底片相机,三度前往朝鲜拍摄,将眼前所见的景象集结成《过江》这一系列作品。

“It’s something that I had to photograph. It was a story I just had to tell,” Zhou tells us.

Having lived in Dandong since he was a child, he often brushed shoulders with the city’s North Korean population, whether in restaurants or on the street. However, Zhou found that it was extremely difficult to communicate with the North Koreans who were permitted in his city. Musing over his interactions with North Korean visitors over the years, Zhou ponders, “What kind of a weakness needs to be hidden away so deeply, that even a simple ‘hello’ can be interpreted as a severe transgression?”

To find answers, he began planning his visit. Even though North Korea was directly across the river from Dandong, Zhou was not able to enter directly – instead, he had to register as part of a tour group to set foot inside of the country. His tour group would be observed by two guides at all times, making it difficult for Zhou to photograph freely.

“Because almost all of the photographs shot in North Korea are inspected, I brought along a film camera, so that my film photographs would be more difficult to inspect,” he shares. “I couldn’t take photographs too conspicuously, and I often needed to stray away slightly or walk slower than my tour group in order to make the most out of my time there.”


这是周越“不得不拍、不得不讲的故事” 。因为从小在丹东长大,朝鲜人民对周越来说并不陌生,可能就坐在面馆餐桌的对面,也可能在路上就擦身而过。对于与这样一个早已习以为常的民族一起生活,当想进一步了解他们的时候,却发现是如此困难。“到底是什么样脆弱的东西需要这样严密地看管,连正常打个招呼都像是碰触到禁忌一般严重。”

这样的好奇心驱使他前往拍摄朝鲜。因为无法直接经由边境直接进入,即使就近在咫尺,周越还是只能透过旅行团的方式与其他人一起入境。随时都有两位督导员跟着团员行动,这使他的拍摄任务更加困难,“基本上在朝鲜拍的东西都要被检查,但因为我用的是底片相机,比较可以顺利躲过检查。也不能太大方的拍摄,所以我经常都是偷偷脱队或走得慢一些,来争取拍照的时间。”

Crossing the River has more of a focus on propaganda rather than the country of North Korea as a whole,” Zhou explains. “Everywhere you looked, there were huge slogans, murals, and statues that towered in contrast to human scale. According to my understanding, North Korea is the only kind of country in the world that still disseminates information in this way, and there’s not much diversity of information in the country. Because of this, it was interesting for me to document the relationship between the country’s propaganda and its people.”


“我在《过江》里最想讨论的其实并不是朝鲜,而是‘媒介’。路上随处可见各种巨大的标语、壁画、雕塑等等,它们与人比例上的落差。在我认知的世界中,只有朝鲜还在用这样纯粹物理的手法做宣传,没有过多的杂讯,因此这里很便于我纪录媒介和人之间的关系。”

It was a purposeful decision to present Crossing the River in black and white. Zhou felt the series would be best displayed in grayscale as to express a similar sense of detachment from reality that he had experienced while in North Korea. The black and white also makes it difficult to identify when the series was actually shot, lending the images a feeling of timelessness.

In mainstream media, North Korea is often presented through a lens of bias, often being the subject of ridicule or vilification. Zhou hopes that his work can maintain a detached objectivity, which is why many of his images are composed in a straightforward manner with a wide angle – similar to the perspective of a surveillance camera. “I just want to put things on display,” he explains of his photojournalistic approach. “I don’t want to add my own ideas or interpretation. Not only for Crossing the River, but for all of my works.”


影像之所以使用黑白处理,是因为彩色还是太接近真实,黑白影像稍微能抽离一点,不受时间上的扰乱。虽说世人是用异样的眼光在看待朝鲜,说严重点就是妖魔化,在媒体报导的影响下怀抱偏见,但周越表示他不希望自己成为那样媒体的其一。他希望能尽量以冷静客观的视角出发,因此作品都是方正的、远观的,就像是模拟监视器的角度。“我只想去呈现,而不是特意加上意思的表述。不光是《过江》,我也是这样努力的去做每一件作品。”

Contributor: Yang Yixuan
Image Courtesy of Zhou Yue

 


供稿人: Yang Yixuan
图片由周越提供