The 12 photographers included in the exhibition “North Korean Perspectives,” on view at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Photography through October 4, reflect on the public image that the totalitarian government of North Korea tries to project, and the limited view that outsiders have of the secretive country known as the Hermit Kingdom. The show features recent images by photojournalists David Guttenfelder and Tomas van Houtryve, and images made in the 1990s by Pierre Bessard. Ari Hatsuzawa, who is Japanese, managed to make relatively candid and intimate images of life in North Korea by befriending and socializing with the government minders who accompanied him everywhere he went.
Some artists in the show have appropriated images released by state-owned media to skewer its upbeat propaganda. These include João Rocha, who created the deadpan series “Kim Jong Il Looking at Things,” and South Korean photographer Seung Woo Back, who digitally alters the postcards of government architecture.
The show also features work by Suntag Noh, Marie Voignier, Matjaž Tančič, Alice Wielinga, Philippe Chancel and Hyounsang Yoo. The artists do not attempt to present a single reality of the Hermit Kingdom, “nor do they yield a definite picture of its people,” writes guest curator Marc Prust. But they each offer their perspective on a place few of us will see for ourselves. “Therefore, from this array of visions and opinions, we have to try and make up our own minds about a country eager to do that for us. A photograph can be a vehicle for a lie, but change the context of that picture, and it can reveal something of the truth it wants to hide.”