Welcome to Pyongyang
FOREWORD BY BARNABY CADDY
Aid Specialist and former United Nations Monitor in North Korea
Secrecy breeds curiosity, and none more so than the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea. The outside world’s view of the hermit kingdom is often shaped by snippets of news reels with goose-stepping soldiers, military parades and perfectly made-up traffic ladies – all showing that the Socialist dream is alive and well in the DPRK. This is starkly juxtaposed by the West’s reporting of widespread starvation, gulags and nuclear facilities hidden in remote mountain valleys. And where people’s curiosity still hasn’t been satisfied, rumour fills those gaps. The three haircuts permitted by the regime must make easy work for the country’s barbers.
A genuine picture of what North Korea really feels like can be difficult to come by.
So what of the people of North Korea? Which image closer reflects the day to day reality of how North Koreans live? People can be overwhelmed by the strangeness of North Korea and overlook that the country, like any other country, is populated by people. Mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, public servants, bus drivers and so on. People struggling to make ends meet, to fall in love, to spend time with family and to lie in the sun on a still winter’s day.
As a monitor with the United Nations, I had the rare privilege to spend three months in the DPRK. My work brought me to distant corners of that remarkable country, and in contact with everyday North Koreans going about their lives. The faces and stories of the people I met left a deep and lasting impression on me. Faces do tell a thousand stories, and it was frustrating that I was limited by my work’s mandate and that I couldn’t spend longer with people to really understand what shaped their lives.
After returning back to Australia, I was asked countless questions by people fascinated with North Korea. Although I did my best to articulate what I saw, felt, etc., it was always difficult to accurately convey the mood of the country.
Hinton has managed through his drawings and paintings to capture a feeling of North Korea that resonated with me immediately. North Korea is surreal, sometimes pained, often grey, and a lot to take in. It’s full of people doing normal things in extraordinary circumstances. Hinton captures people learning to swim, gardeners tending their plants and ashen faced kinds laboring on a construction site. Blues and greys set the mood, asymmetrical faces look back at the viewer.
In a country where photography, beyond snapshots of monuments and mountainsides, is difficult, Hinton has applied his critical perspective to provide a view into what North Korea feels like. His pictures are uncomfortable as much as they intriguing, and provide a raw perspective. Hopefully Hinton’s work will provide a fresh perspective from the usual rhetoric of North Korea, and through his pictures make a more human connection with such a fascinating and isolated corner of the world.