Index: North Korea

Lives of Others

MoranbongMembers of the State Merited Chorus and the Moranbong Band from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea arrive at a railway station in Beijing. More thoughts on the unsettling ratio of beauty & the dead weight of the state in an earlier post, here, regarding photographs of North Korea by documentary photographer Tomas Van Houtryve. Photo by Jin Liangkuai / CORBIS

Tomas van Houtryve

Viewing these shots by documentary photographer Tomas Van Houtryve is a complicated experience. They pull powerfully at two distinct psychological strands – on the one hand they are thoroughly, almost voluptuously, gorgeous. On the other, they are deeply unsettling. In each shot, intermingled with the beauty, you can palpably feel communism’s total soul-crushing weight. They are all drawn from Van Houtryve’s ongoing project to document the last tattered communist holdouts – among them North Korea, Moldova, Laos, and China. The project is but a part of a deeply impressive body of work, all motivated by a deep, philosophical and humanitarian approach, under-girded by a superb sense of aesthetics. His work can seen here. He is also a gifted writer, and the stories behind the photographs, told on his blog, are fascinating. Start with his account of infiltrating North Korea, part one of which is here. (Hat tip Ashley Gilbertson, whose new project, Bedrooms of the Fallen, documenting the bedrooms of soldiers killed in Iraq & Afghanistan, is also well worth your attention.)