Uncoloring North Korea

May 16, 2017 2017年5月16日

Shanghai-based photographer Ni Chen describes her time in North Korea as a surreal step back in time. “To be honest, whilst I don’t know much about North Korean politics, I was intrigued by this social system, one which was a stark contrast to anything that I have experienced before.” The most notable difference for her was the colors — or rather, the lack thereof. Pyongyang’s color palette consisted of blacks, grays, and navy blues. Shades of red, blue, and green were almost exclusively reserved for public facilities and ornaments.


Ni Chen’s time in North Korea was split between Pyongyang and Kaesong; as most of the journey was heavily regulated, she was unable to capture some “truly beautiful” moments on camera. “After stepping out of the Pyongyang Railway Station, I found myself facing an iron-clad playground; it was a beautiful moment, observing these free-spirited kids playing. A shame that I couldn’t photograph them.” On her way to Kaesong, there was also an almost cinematic moment when a young boy stood on a hillside, watching their tour group’s bus drive by. He wore a green sweater and stared inquisitively at the vehicle as three crows flew past him. “That moment was so beautiful, it felt so much like a scene from an Andrei Tarkovsky film.”

倪晨在朝鲜期间主要去了平壤和开城两个城市。在朝鲜,游客会受到严格的管制,因此,有很多“真正美丽”的瞬间她都没有机会用镜头记录下来。从平壤火车站出来会经过一个儿童公园非常漂亮复古的铁质娱乐设施小孩子也都很高兴的样子可惜不允许下车拍照。” 从平壤到开城的巴士上,经过一个山坡时,有个穿绿色毛衣的小男孩站在山坡上观望着她所在的巴士,突然三只乌鸦从他身前掠过。她感慨道:“那是非常漂亮的瞬间,就像安德烈·塔科夫斯基的电影。

Ni Chen also visited the Pyongyang city library, which like typical libraries, feature a collection of books that are available for borrowing, but also courses for learning foreign languages. The most intriguing part of the visit was seeing how the computers in the library could only be accessed using LAN; locals are only able to use them to log on to North Korea’s tightly controlled Kwangmyong intranet system.

平壤市内的图书馆,除了借阅图书,还可以学习外语课程。图书馆内的电脑只能使用局域网, 人们可以登录到朝鲜的国家局域网路“光明网”(Kwangmyong Net)。

She also observed that the capital’s architecture was noticeably Soviet in style. Korean signage aside, this moment brought Ni Chen back to her time traveling and photographing Russia.


During the trip, one image of a girl reading on a public bus became one of Ni Chen’s favorites. “This was a candid moment that would not look out of place anywhere in the world.”


Once outside of Pyongyang, Ni Chen managed to capture a moment that is truly out of the norm for most photographers that travel to North Korea. In the city of Kaesong, she serendipitously stumbled across a wedding. “They were just as surprised to see me as I was to find them. I could only guess that the collective reciting of revolutionary history and their fist pump actions were part of the ceremony.”


Towards the end of her journey, she snapped an image of the small shark tank in the lobby of Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo International Hotel. “Whilst this hotel looked impressive from the outside, the furnishings and facilities inside reminded me of a local police station in one of China’s third or fourth-tier cities. This shark tank sort of symbolized North Korea as a whole to me – it’s a small nation that is trying so hard to appear terrifying.”


WeChat: linsam1990
Weibo: ~/spancer
Instagram: @elephant.show


Contributor: Whitney Ng

微信: linsam1990
微博: ~/spancer
Instagram: @elephant.show


供稿人: Whitney Ng


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