A secret heart

London born photographer Charlie Crane’s book Welcome to Pyonguang is one of the few serious looks I’ve seen of the secret country North Korea. Published in 2007 this work shows people and places in a country few ever get a chance to visit. Surprisingly though many of the sites Mr. Crane photographed were tourist destinations which adds an additional layer of oddity to the scenes.

It apparently took over a year to receive the necessary permissions to visit the country. Mr. Crane in interviews describes some of this experience:

It took over a year to get permission to go in with my camera and nothing quite prepares you for what awaits. I was not allowed to take my mobile phone past customs and was met by two guides who were to accompany me at all times throughout my trip. At first they appeared robotic in conversation as if reading from a script, telling of their country’s great achievements. After a few days and many polaroids the guides became more relaxed and personable.

What I like about Mr. Crane’s images is the dream like quality. How do you photograph a place that exist almost exclusively as a name in western culture? One can watch news reports of events happening in North Korea and I have grown up with the face of Kim Jong Il appearing with surprising regularity on television screens but aside from the few grainy satellite images, I had no idea what this place looked like. Instead I have been left to rely on my imagination. What do you think of when someone says “Pyonguang or “Yeonpyeong Island”? Can you hold an image in your mind or do you just have a name and odd spelling? Is this place a hidden dysfunctional hell or a secret utopia or maybe a little of both? While no answer is revealed by these images I at least have something to add to the hole in my mind when new inevitably flows from south across the DMZ.

To see more of Charlie Crane’s work please visit his website: