Photographer Eddo Hartmann travelled four times to North Korea between 2014 and 2017 to create his groundbreaking project in cooperation with Koryo Studio. This website presents Hartmann’s photographic work, video instalations and 360 footage
“ Within North Korea’s collective character, the individual is just a pixel . It’s exactly that pixel that I’m looking for and their significance within the city. ”
Having made four trips to Pyongyang over the last few years, Eddo Hartmann has created this refined project to portray the North Korean regime’s ambition to construct the ultimate socialist city while completely shaping the lives of its inhabitants after this ideal model.
After the total destruction of the capital during the Korean War (1950-1953), the government seized the opportunity to rebuild Pyongyang from the ground up and convert it into the perfect propaganda setting. The buildings were designed to provide all inhabitants with a utopian background for their everyday routine and immortalise the socialist revolution.
Eddo Hartmann is one of the few Western photographers who have been given the exceptional opportunity to record Pyongyang’s artificial architecture. In a series of evocative images, he has captured the forced and almost unrealistic character of the North Korean aspirations. In the process, he places an original focus on the individual.
The man with a camera
Since its invention, photography has been giving people the opportunity to look into the distant and inaccessible parts of the world. Even in today's global and highly transparent world, where people can cover large distances in a few hours, we learn a lot about life in other countries through the images and texts accompanying them. This is especially true for closed states, access to which is restricted or impossible for political reasons. In this case, the image is based solely on media coverage, often mythologizing and turning into a set of visual and verbal clichés. North Korea is perhaps the most vivid example of such mythology. Being isolated from the rest of the world, the country only seems to show its carefully retouched surface. A man with a camera in North Korea faces rigid control and regulations concerning what to shoot and how it should be shot. However, photography, which is able to capture a random moment, detect something not available to the unaided eyes and suddenly show "invisible" even in the carefully staged performance, remains the main research tool of the hidden reality.
Eddo Hartmann encounters Pyongyang as a grand stage, an imposing, often bleak facade that weighs down and dwarfs individuals.
Leave it up to the always present guides and Pyongyang is a deserted city. Their focus is on the grand narrative of country, leader and revolution, and how these are one and undivided. Every story, every visit begins and ends with the Great Leaders, absorbing all attention like a black hole consuming all light.
The monumental front of Pyongyang is an architectural hymn to the Leaders. Their imprint on the city is as imposing as it is all-encompassing. They gave the city its squares and monuments, its memorials and museums, its libraries and theatres, its subway and hospitals, its leisure parks and apartment blocks. Memorial plaques at the entrances of countless buildings list the times the Great Leaders gave ‘on the site guidance’. Throughout the city, mosaics showing the radiant faces of the Great Leaders accompany commuters on their journey, and stelae erected on major thoroughfares remind residents that the deceased Great Leaders shall forever be with them. Slogans on rooftops and over porticos sing the praise of the Leaders, their ideology and the Korean Workers’ Party. In the entrance halls to public buildings, statues or paintings of the Great Leaders, themed to the purpose of the building, welcome visitors.
Immersive storytelling is a technique that is finding its way into new spaces such as, advertising, documentaries and journalism. The aim is to give audience the feeling of really ‘being there’. 360-degree video is recorded using a special rig of multiple cameras, or using a camera that contains multiple camera lenses embedded into the device, and filming overlapping angles simultaneously. Through a method known as video stitching, this separate footage is merged together into one spherical video. Needless to say that using this kind of equipment was quite a challenge in the DPRK where a normal shot with a DSLR camera already can be difficult to almost impossible.
Below you can find some 360-degree video fragments made in Pyongyang that are part of the video installation first shown at Museum for Photography in Amsterdam from December 9th 2017 until March 4th 2018. Please note these are short filmclps which originally are viewed with VR headsets.
Loudspeakers in the streets of Pyongyang
Pyongyang, 12 o'clock at night. The eerie stillness of the late night is shattered as loudspeakers across the city crack to life with the strange, dissonant electronic music of "Where Are You, Dear General" as performed by North Korea's state-sanctioned propaganda orchestra. Probably every day, most of Pyongyang's residents end their day when this recording sounds over the streets and into their bedrooms.
The tune is a short synth version of a song from one of the most famous North Korean revolutionary operas: "A True Daughter Of The Party". It has been said that it is written by Kim Jong Il, the late Leader of the DPRK. Not only that: according to one version of his official biography, all his opera’s are “better than any in the history of music.” Even accounting for the immodesty of dictators, this claim is unusual. Most leaders see themselves as military heroes and saviors of their people; Kim also wanted to be known as, of all things, a composer of operas.
Armed with a tripod and filmcamera Hartmann followed his guides during many late evenings in Pyongyang to record the residents of the city making their way trough the dark streets and square's.
Below you can find a video of the installation made for Huis Marseille Museum Of Photography in Amsterdam. The sound in de film is recorded on the dark streets of Pyongyang.
In the multimedia exhibition of the project Hartmann penetrates into the everyday lives of people who populate this isolated corner of the world. Using large prints, film material and 360-degree video he created installations that will give the viewer the sensation of experiencing what it’s really like to have to live in this environment day in, day out, and to wonder whether residents of Pyongyang behave like actors in the stage play that has been built around them. (See video below) For information on the exhibition for curators please mail: email@example.com
Jim Casper, Lensculture Magazine:
“An excellent multi-floor exhibition of the work at the Huis Marseille museum of photography in Amsterdam immerses the viewer in North Korea. Impeccable, mural-size prints convey the immense blandness of the capital city. Videos present a surreal view of vast, empty public spaces filled with the sound of endless propagan- dist messages emitting from loudspeakers.”
Cat Lachowskyj, British Journal of Photography:
“By incorporating additional multi-sensory ex- periences into the project, Hartmann further shifts us away from the journalistic imagery that fails to present a rounded story of the seemingly impenetrable capital. Considering the current political climate, Hartmann’s project is necessary to help us connect with North Korea’s 25 million citizens, who exist as individuals despite our distant and abstract access to them.”
Saskia van Loenen, NRC Handelsblad:
“Hartmann went to North Korea four times. On each visit he was invariably accompanied by two guides, who would sometimes literally steer him in the desired direction: no, you can’t photograph those people – but you can photograph this empty square. Still, there were a few unguarded moments in which he managed to take the photo he wanted. He also made an intriguing, unreal film of the music that blares from outside loudspeakers every day until midnight. And don’t miss the 360-degree virtual reality headset: it instantly transports you to Pyongyang, amongst its inhabitants, hurrying to the train or sitting in the metro. A unique and extraordinary experience.”
Anthony Guevara, GUP Magazine:
"The exhibition at Museum Huis Marseille culminates at the top floor in an immersive 360-degree experience from the Pyongyang metro, complete with headphones and VR-glasses. It is a mesmerising experience to stand in one of the metro carriages with its local passengers, or gaze at the commuters walking by in one of the splendid stations inspired by the Moscow metro"
"SETTING THE STAGE/ NORTH KOREA" HARDCOVER Publication with more than 75 full color images
Introduction by Koen De Ceuster
A historian of modern Korea at Leiden university (Netherlands), Koen De Ceuster (1963) has published widely on South and north Korean affairs. interested in the social construction of history and the politics of memory, he studies north Korean propaganda posters and art. he is an internationally recognised authority on north Korean art theory and practice.
Interview with Eddo Hartmann by Merel Bem
Merel Bem (1977) studied art history at the university of amsterdam and new York university (nYu). Since 2000 she has been writing on art, photography and fashion for the dutch national broadsheet de Volkskrant and numerous magazines and publications.
27 x 35 cm
ISBN 978 94 9267 715 0
For general information and print sales please contact:
Eddo Hartmann (1973, the Hague) lives and works in Amsterdam. He graduated with distinctions from the Department of Photography at the Royal Academy of Art The Hague (KABK). Hartmann claims that his approach is grounded in the 19th century photographic tradition. He takes careful consideration for gaining detail wherever possible. His cityscapes, interiors and portraits show this intensive effort. The skill, patience and unrelenting point of view make Hartmann’s photographs intimate and epic at the same time. His images were exhibited in various galleries and museums including The Lumiere Brothers in Moscow, The Museum Dr Guislain in Ghent, The Seoul Museum of Art. His work can be found in private and public collections. Hartmann received numerous nominations and awards from The Dutch photographers Association (DuPho) and the Association of photographers in London (AOP). He was longlisted for the Swiss ‘Prix Prictet’ in 2012 and the ‘Dutchdoc Award’ in 2013 for his book ‘Here Lives My Home’
Text on this website by:
Koen De Ceuster, University of Leiden
Olga Annanurova, curator Lumiere Brothers Gallery Moscow
Daniel Levitsky, Koryo Studio Beijing
"Setting the Stage" would not have been possible without the generous help of Koryo Studio/Tours
Nick Bonner, Simon Cockerell, Vicky Mohieddeen, Adrian Sandiford, Marielle de Goede, James Banfill, Rich Beal.
Images and footage © Eddo Hartmann/Koryo Studio
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