There’s only so much a foreigner can do in North Korea, and Matt Kuleuzs has done most of it plus more—including partying with villagers in the isolated province of North Hamgyong. He’s been to the country over sixty times and shot a body of work that offers a considerate look into the secretive nation.
Kuleuzs’s interest in North Korea started in his hometown of Melbourne, where his studies in international affairs focused on East Asia. The more he learned about the country, the more infatuated he became—North Korea soon grew into an obsession.
在朝鲜，外国人能做的事情屈指可数；Matt Kuleuzs 几乎将外国人在朝鲜能做的事情都做遍了，还曾在偏远的咸镜北道与村民一起参加派对。他已经去过朝鲜六十多次，期间拍摄了大量的照片，让人们得以一窥这个神秘国家的真实面貌。
His first visit to the country was on a 12-day tour through Young Pioneer Tours, one of the few agencies specializing in North Korea. Before his return home, he had already decided to be part of their team as a tour guide as soon as he graduated.
In his three years working as such, Kuleuzs had an unparalleled opportunity to travel through eight out of the nine North Korean provinces, multiple times, through paved and—most of the time—unpaved roads. One of the most interesting destinations for him was Kaesong. Unlike most of the cities in the north, Kaesong wasn’t as affected by air raids during the Korean War, and with its thatched-roofs and various heritage sites still preserved, it was a valuable look into the history and culture of the unified peninsula.
他第一次到访朝鲜是通过参加 Young Pioneer Tours 为期 12 天的旅游——这是提供赴朝鲜旅游的少数机构之一。旅游结束之前，Matt 就下定决心在毕业后加入团队，成为一名导游。
三年期的导游工作为 Matt 提供了难得的机会，遍访朝鲜九个省中的八个省，除了基建良好的城市，他也造访了落后的乡村僻野。对他来说，最有趣的朝鲜城市之一是开城。不同于朝鲜北部的大多数城市，开城在朝鲜战争期间并未受到空袭的影响，至今依然保留着茅草屋顶和各种历史遗址，为了解这个朝鲜半岛国家的历史和文化提供了宝贵的窗口。
There’s a stark contrast between what he saw in the rural areas and the capital. Pyongyang had three-fourths of its infrastructure wiped out during the war, and much of the city was reconstructed in a Stalinist style.
“Pyongyang is meticulously planned,” Kuleuz says.“The distance between the Workers Party Foundation Monument, with the big hammer, sickle, and paintbrush, and the Mansudae Grand Monument, with the statues of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il, is exactly 2.16 kilometers. It was conceived as a tribute to Kim Jong Il’s birthday on February 16.
Matt说：“平壤是一座经过精心规划的城市。由巨型的锤子、镰刀和画笔组成的建党纪念碑，与金日成和金正日雕像的万寿台大纪念碑之间的距离刚好为 2.16 公里，这代表了金正日的诞辰 2 月 16 日。”
“The city is grand: the brutalist soviet architecture sits alongside the new Jetsons-esque style of pastel buildings,” he adds. “The interiors are kitsch; you’ll find 1970’s carpet alongside floral murals, fake palm trees, fairy lights, and neon chandeliers. Things clash, but somehow it works.”
Fashion is another fascinating facet of North Korean aesthetics. Away from the conformism of military attires and state-approved hairstyles, there’s color and texture, and it happens in an involuntary retro way. Kuleuzs points to the timelessness of the country’s female fashion as an example, describing it as “a secretary style, trapped somewhere between the 1960s and 1980s.”
From amusement parks to dolphinariums and countless museums, Pyongyang provides a variety of wholesome entertainment options. Even though the authorities enforce a nationwide nightly curfew, there are many bars and karaoke clubs. North Koreans also take advantage of the various national holidays—most of which relate to the party, the leaders, or the war—to gather in parks and celebrate.
“They love drinking, dancing, and singing,” Kuleuzs says. “Once, in an extremely off-the-beaten-path village by the Chilbo Mountains, the locals brought out a speaker, and we had a mini-rave around a bonfire on the beach to the sound of North Korean techno.”
从游乐园、海豚馆到各种各样的博物馆，平壤提供了各种的娱乐设施。虽然政府在全国实行宵禁，但仍能看到许多酒吧和卡拉 OK 俱乐部。除此之外，朝鲜人还喜欢趁各种国定假日（大部分都是与党、领导人或战争有关的假期）在公园聚会庆祝。
North Korea’s stigma of being a closed and hateful society isn’t all true, Kuleuzs says. He’s found North Koreans to be humorous, curious, and utterly relatable. “North Koreans are proud, nationalistic, and very much into their leadership,” he says. “But I find the accusation that they are brainwashed automatons pretty naff. Their devotion is not very different from those of groups with specific religious beliefs.”
Kuleuzs admits that foreigners not being allowed to talk to the population at large is, to some extent, true. But on the occasions that it is possible to do so, like when visiting the Munsu Water Park, North Koreans are open and friendly.
他承认，从一定程度上来说，朝鲜确实不允许外国人与大多数的民众交谈。但是也不是绝对的，例如参观文殊水上乐园 （Munsu Water Park）时，他遇到的朝鲜民众都很开放和友好。
“It’s pointless to expect conversations about how North Korea really is; it’s not going to happen,” he says. “Besides, there is so much more happening in their lives beyond politics. I prefer to speak to them about whatever I’d speak to my friends back home: relationships, movies, music, what would they do with a million dollars? Common ground things.”
With a unique perspective grounded in local life and not politics, Kuleuzs’ photographs pivot from the usual narrative around the country. They tear the homogeneous and largely misconceived image of North Korea and reveal its real character through the resilience, stoicism, and livelihood of its people. “Instead of Kim Jong Un pointing at things and goose-stepping soldiers in a military parade, I aim to capture the other side—the human side of the country,” he says.