Invited to document North Korea in 3D by Koryo Studio, Slovenian photographer Matjaž Tančič wanted to show something of the people who live there, stripped of rhetoric.
Choosing to take portraits of people in North Korea invites controversy, criticism and significant challenges. In the eyes of the Western world, North Korea is one of the few countries where photographic voyeurism is celebrated. Working within the rules of the North Korean regime invites accusation of being naïve or, worse, a ‘useful idiot’ of taking on the work of a complex and powerful propaganda machine.
North Korea is one of the most restrictive societies on Earth; all visitors to the country must be invited, and all are required to travel with guides representing the organization that invited them. There have been multiple instances in the past of ‘tourists’ repackaging and selling their images to the global press. In North Korea there is an inherent distrust of Western photographers. Capturing a ‘rare glimpse’ of a North Korean person, photographed at speed from a moving bus, or through a doorway, taps into our colonial desire to be the ‘first’ to see something, and in doing so successfully captures the interest of a Western audience. The ‘rare glimpse’ has become so oxymoronically common, we can now call it a trope of North Korean photography. But forgotten, or dismissed, in this never-ending quest for unseen images in our over-stimulated modern world, are the subjects of these ‘rare glimpses’: the North Korean people whose images have been captured.
This specific nature of the 3D technique he used required introduction and demonstration and encouraged interest and exchange between photographer and subject. This exchange, facilitated by our guides, translators and interested onlookers allowed us to bypass, somewhat, the more commonly experienced relationship between western photographers in North Korea and those that they photograph, typified by a lack of direct interaction and explanation of intent and purpose.
Among the more than 100 portraits we captured, there is a boxing champion learning to ice skate, a photographer in forest, a worker in and iconic steel complex and an international worker with the Red Cross. These are the people we met in North Korea, and who we present in 3D.
3DPRK was published as a book-object in 2017 by the creative and innovative Chinese publishing house Jiazazhi Press, specialized in photo books.
In partnership with Koryo Studio
Publication: 3DPRK, Jiazazhi Press, 2016
Image: WON IL MYONG, 38, Furnace Worker, Chollima Steelworks © Matjaž Tančič with Koryo Studio
KANG KUM HYANG, 24, Waitress, Sugok Rest Stop © Matjaž Tančič with Koryo Studio.
CHAE CHOL BOK, 25, Electricity Worker, + CHO SONG RAN, 32, Urea Fertiliser Worker, Hungnam Fertiliser Factory © Matjaž Tančič with Koryo Studio.
SON KUM JU, 29, Cleaner, Sinhungsan Hotel, Hamhung © Matjaž Tančič with Koryo Studio.
Born 1982, Ljubljana, Yugoslavia (now Slovenia). Lives and works between Ljubljana and Beijing.
Matjaž Tančič is a lens-based artist working mainly on documentary and independent projects between China and Slovenia. His work explores the lines between documentary, portrait and art photography to engage with social and cultural issues. He likes to experiment within the photographic medium and is mainly known for his 3D stereography projects. Tančič holds a BA in photography from the University of the Arts, London.
© Klemen Ilovar