Moments of a Life: Behind the Scenes in North Korea

The associated photographer, Maye-E Wong, is trying to capture different moments from those we see in the news

September 19th, 2016
Veronica Barbiero, CD News

Photojournalist, Maye-E Wong, said she is trying “to look for moments beneath the surface and all the orchestrated pageantry”, in her photographs of North Korea.

North Korea is one of the most repressive, closed countries. It is frequently in the news on account of the nuclear tests it conducts or the launching of missiles. Yet there is another face, a face that is only visible to those who have the chance to live in North Korea. If you are able to catch a glimpse of this face, it offers another reality.

Thanks to her job as an AP photographer for North Korea, Maye-E Wong travels every month from Singapore to North Korea, where she stays for 10 days each trip. There she works with Eric Talmadge, the AP’s Pyongyang bureau chief and writer. The AP in Pyongyang is the only US-based media organisation that is allowed a presence in North Korea.

Wong said that she wanted to capture something other than the same, tough, hermetic face that the world is used to seeing from North Korea. When she is in North Korea working, however, she is always controlled and accompanied by the government and so she is never truly free to take pictures of what she wishes to capture. Also, Wong mentioned, people tend not to be so happy when they see someone taking pictures of them, because they are not used to it. However, she said, “if you approach people with a smile, and break the ice with some local language, they will be more receptive to you”. In this sense, language and photography can become a way to erase barriers between people, even when dealing with a society as traditionally closed as North Korea.

Maye-E Wong’s work will be on display in an exhibition at the Objectifs Centre for Photography and Film in Singapore, from 13th September to 15th October. 


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