Sunday, June 14, 2015

Hello, South Korea

Closed Societies

A Photographer in North Korea: Guttenfelder standing next to a North Korean guide
on Mount Paektu in 2012. NYT’s 
Gonzalez says: Face it: In a place as walled-off and
mysterious as North Korea, any image not produced by the state was a revelation. In a way,
Mr. Guttenfelder said, he felt it was his responsibility to show the outside world the reality
away from stage-managed events.”

Photo Credit: David Guttenfelder; 2012
Source: NYT
An article, by David Gonzalez, in The New York Times “Lens” series writes about photographer David Guttenfelder, one of the few Western journalists who has not only taken photos, but has transmitted images of a nation that is still unknown and unseen to most of the world. We are of course referring to North Korea, which is as different from its southern counterpart—South Korea, a well-developed open democracy—as one would expect from the outcomes of two differing political and economic systems.

Gonzales writes in “Live, from North Korea” (June 10, 2015):
Firing up his Periscope app, Mr. Guttenfelder pointed his iPhone outside his hotel window and began to stream live video. Soon, he was being peppered with questions from online viewers: What was it like? What did he eat? How was it working there? That intense curiosity — not to mention engagement — was similar to when he had posted images to Instagram, not only during his recent visit, but also dating back to his tenure as The Associated Press’s chief Asia photographer.
“There’s probably not a better place to test the power of photography and photojournalism than a place that has never really allowed photography or foreigners there,” Mr. Guttenfelder said. “We don’t know very much about North Korea because it has not been photographed for 60-something years. The only images we ever see have been distributed by the state as propaganda. For me to go there over the years has been a rare opportunity and responsibility. Otherwise, it’s completely unknown. While imperfect, we have eyes on the ground and some windows opening.”
It is part of human nature to want to know about places that are hidden from view. Our human curiosity wants to know whether what is hidden is similar to what we know and see, or whether there are profound and great differences between the two Koreas sharing the Korean Peninsula, which has a land area of 219,140 sq km (or 84,610 sq miles). It was divided by the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. in 1945, quickly after the end of the Second World War and of 35 years of Japanese rule. Are the people sharing the peninsula essentially the same in both north and south? Or does culture (of which politics plays a large looming role) influence humans to a sufficient, if not significant, degree in how they think and act?

The short answer to both, we know today, is yes; but there is always a need for a qualified explanation, an asterisk to clarify. It must also be remembered that outward actions do not always represent an inward reality; some things are best hidden as a measure of prudence and self-preservation. This might be the case of the citizens of North Korea, who likely have to meet certain expectations of behaviour and thought.

This being duly noted, it must be said that what we do know about North Korea is not good; it is as cheerless a place as one could imagine, with a high level of deprivation. Under its current leader, relations with its only regional ally, China, have become worse than under its previous leader. Its citizens, if they allow themselves, look southward across the 38th parallel, with a degree of wistfulness, thinking, “if only one day…”

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For more, go to [NYTLens].

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