Photographer Wolf Nitch is the Edge of Humanity Magazine contributor of this documentary photography. From the project ‘North Korea – Architecture of Propaganda’. To see Wolf’s body of work, click on any image.
“During the occasion of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday and Kim Jong Un’s ascension to power, I visited the DPRK and captured its fascinating propaganda architecture. Entering North Korea can feel like stepping into a carefully crafted theatrical production, as observed during a trip to the DPRK to mark the occasion of Kim Il Sung’s 100th birthday.
The experience is closely monitored and controlled by two guides, and every aspect is embellished with hyperbole and magnification. The state’s grip on every aspect of life, from the individual to the collective, is all-encompassing, and the architecture is designed as a propaganda tool to present a facade of unity and strength. Initially the totalitarianism of the environment will appear “perfect,” clean, and controlled. The people who are allowed to see you, all behave according to a predetermined way of thinking, acting out a story with a perpetual climax but no ending, based on a war that occurred in 1953.
Despite this, there are moments when the State’s watchful eye is not upon you, and glimpses of hope and change may be seen. During a walk through the mountains near the “International Friendship Exhibition” halls of Kim Jong Il and Kim Il Sung, I encountered what appeared to be spontaneous celebrations and singing in the forest, which the guide explained were proof of people celebrating the Great Leaders’ birthday in cities and forests. They danced every time I aimed the camera at them, stopping only when the camera was lowered, creating a feeling of being a puppeteer of the regime.
But while the people act perfectly in accordance with the propaganda – at least whilst the watchful eye of the state watches them – the architecture of the monuments and buildings are showing some cracks in the propaganda fabric. Architecture in North Korea is meant to serve as a tool for propaganda, promoting the image of the country’s leaders and reinforcing the government’s control over its people. The buildings are designed to exude grandeur, strength, and unity, with large-scale structures, such as the Newly unveiled Mansudae Grand Monument and the Triumphal Arch, dominating the landscape.
The Mansudae Grand Monument, for example, depicts Kim Il Sung and his son Kim Jong Il in bronze, standing in front of a towering granite structure that symbolizes the North Korean state. The Triumphal Arch, meanwhile, is modeled after the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, but with added socialist realism features, such as statues of soldiers and workers.
The Monument to the Korean Workers Party and Tanjun Mausoleum are other examples of North Korean architectural propaganda. The former is a 50-meter-tall tower with a hammer, sickle, and calligraphy brush on top, representing the party’s workers, farmers, and intellectuals. The latter is a memorial site for the country’s founding father, Kim Il Sung, and his wife. The mausoleum features white marble and granite sculptures of the leaders, surrounded by colorful mosaics depicting scenes from their lives.
However, behind the façade of these monuments and buildings, cracks in the propaganda begin to show. The lack of illumination surrounding the monuments and buildings at night, such as the newly unveiled Mansudae Grand Monument illustrates the discrepancy between the reality of North Korea and the idealized image the regime seeks to project. Similarly, the empty roads, lack of vehicular traffic, cracks in buildings, missing windows, are constant reminders of the failed state of the DPRK, despite the regime’s attempt to depict an image of a bustling metropolis.”
Wolf Nitch is an award-winning French German photographer based in Paris, France. Working across documentary and fine art projects, Nitch’s defining attention to detail is a result of his design training and unique eye for art direction and composition. With a highly considered approach to his art practice, Nitch’s work is recognizable for its clarity and distinct depth of emotion, documenting the complex relationship between humans and nature, urbanism and social fabrics, and architectural design practices. Nitch’s vision is influenced via his tri-cultural background and professional experience in media and design. His exploration of the mediascape via space-architecture and human appropriation is a recurring theme throughout his fine-art documentary work, connecting societal stories with spatial observations and commentaries.
All images and text © Wolf Nitch
By Wolf Nitch
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