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North Korea: Witness to Transformation

Glimpses: Eric Laffourge’s North Korea

by | April 27th, 2012 | 07:00 am
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Eric Lafforgue is a European photographer who has made a worldwide reputation for himself with sharply-etched pictures of people in out-of-the-way places: Papua New Guinea, including Trobriand Islanders, south Ethiopian tribes like the Surma, and now North Korea. One portfolio simply offers glimpses of the new Pyongyang: a hamburger shop, a couple walking hand in hand, ads, cellphones, traffic. A second portfolio (“USA? No, North Korea”) plays off of the contrast between the ubiquity of American brands—from Microsoft to Disney and Nike—and the equal ubiquity of propaganda posters showing the American imperialists, smashed, impaled and altogether brought to heel. Speaking of ubiquity, a third grouping of pictures shows a variety of settings with the obligatory portraits of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il.

A final collection is more self-consciously arty (and to our eye airbrushed), with a much more confused message. A war museum guide developed to look like a porcelain doll; an exaggerated row of medals; an American Gothic-style portrait (that graces the cover of the British edition of Barbara Demick’s wonderful Nothing to Envy); a nearly-erotic look from a dancer at the mass games.  But in the end, we applaud the effort to humanize; its easy to lose sight of the human face of the country and Lafforgue and others we have profiled help.