MATJAŽ TANČIČ, #59. RI YONG GI, 42, Water Regulator, Chonsamri Co-operative Farm, 2014, pigment prints gloss archival paper, 93 × 140 cm. Courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

MATJAŽ TANČIČ, #37. NAM DONG HO, Military Guide, UN Hut, DMZ, 2014, pigment prints gloss archival paper, 93 × 140 cm. Courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

3DPRK: Portraits from North Korea

Matjaž Tančič and Koryo Studio

Pékin Fine Arts
Korea, North Hong Kong

As part of the 4th Hong Kong International Photo Festival, Pékin Fine Arts hosted “3DPRK: Portraits from North Korea,” a collection of three-dimensional (3D) photographs by Slovenian photographer Matjaž Tančič in collaboration with Beijing-based Koryo Studio, a gallery specializing in art from North Korea. Tančič used this rare opportunity into the country to document the lives of its inhabitants through a series of 3D portraits. Through his work, Tančič invites audiences to step into a world far removed from the conventional depictions of North Korea that largely inform our understanding of the nation and its values.

Upon entering the gallery, visitors are presented with a pair of 3D glasses and thus, the role of the viewer switches from passive observer to active participant. Featuring 16 photographs, the selection of works was well suited to the size of the gallery, creating a sense of intimacy that was further reinforced by the 3D nature of the images—viewers needed to step closer in order to experience the images. In each portrait, Tančič features an individual or a small group of people, all embodying different occupations or aspects of daily life. In #59. Ri Yong Gi, 42, Water Regulator, Chonsamri Co-operative Farm (2014), for instance, a weathered-looking farmer is caught casually leaning on his plough, he is not smiling but his expression appears to be one of quiet content, making the viewer feel at ease and encouraging them to step closer. Nearby, #37. Nam Dong Ho, Military Guide, UN Hut, DMZ (2014) features of a pair of soldiers who stare solemnly into the lens of the camera. The younger soldier to the right of the image appears more relaxed whilst the older soldier to his left stands rigid and wears a stern expression, establishing an intriguing contrast.

In a large majority of the works, the subjects gaze out toward the viewer, as though they are engaging in an unspoken dialogue. A fitting example is that of #101. Kim Sol Ju, 21, Server, Masik Ryong Ski Resort Hotel Equipment Rental (2014). Dressed in a bright orange ski suit and holding a pair of skis, the subject stares directly out of the picture frame. Despite the boldness of his outfit, he appears uncertain. His expression is almost one of concern and his right hand is curled nervously by his side. Perhaps he is shy, or maybe his behavior stems from the nation’s inherent distrust of western photographers. Though brief in exchange, the viewer is able to empathize with the subject of this work.

From the doctor to the factory worker, each person is portrayed with a striking dignity. It becomes clear that in depicting a country so preoccupied with collective thought, this exhibition is a celebration of the individual. This heightened sense of individuality extends beyond the photographic subjects—Tančič provides no commentary within these photographs, but rather, encourages the viewer to bring their own meaning. In this approach, the exhibition as a whole becomes about the individual experience.

MATJAŽ TANČIČ, #36. SIN UN YONG, 27, Military GuideArmistice Signing Hall, Panmunjom, 2014, pigment prints gloss archival paper, 93 × 140 cm. Courtesy the artist and Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong. 

The photographs in the show are accompanied by a short, 20-minute documentary wherein Tančič and his team recount their experiences in North Korea, describing the subjects of and circumstances surrounding the photographs. The most striking example is that of the young soldier guide; he is the perhaps exactly the kind of person one would expect to encounter on a visit to North Korea. In his portrait, #36. Sin Un Yong, 27, Military Guide, Armistice Signing Hall, Panmunjom (2014), he stands rigid with his gaze transfixed on the photographer. However, in the documentary we see him smiling and playfully joking with Tančič, uncovering yet another example of the way in which the exhibition challenges our ideas of North Koreans. Perhaps it is the way in which Tančič has skillfully captured each individual that makes this exhibition so appealing, or perhaps it is the promise of a glimpse into North Korea and the lives of its inhabitants that is, in itself, alluring.

3DPRK: Portraits from North Korea” is on view at Pékin Fine Arts, Hong Kong, until January 27, 2017. 

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