Some time ago, this photo-essay, titled ‘exposing North Korea’, was brought to my attention. Naturally, I was quite taken by a number of the photos, the sparseness of human figures, the predominance of khaki. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was something in the mechanics of the photograph qua photograph as well as in the psychological condition that is recognisable in people who call themselves “photographers”, that necessarily makes the series that we call a photo-essay the most shrewdly manipulative and deceitful form of representation – representation itself being the most deceitful practice of cognition. Consider the following images:
We can’t help but feel that we are having the wool pulled over our eyes, regardless of how straight-forward the captions might seem. Is nobody going to mention the palm tree, the fact that North Korea seems to have developed an entirely new form of geometrical upholstery. Witness the perfect assembled polygons of the maroon armchairs, the fabric cover of the wooden chair, the flawless parallel lines of the bartender’s red dress? Interspersed as they are amongst images of rice harvesting and ‘desserted’ stretches of highway, we are encouraged to read the series as a specific narrative about the conditions of life on contemporary NK.
Consider these images and their potential captions, as a series of photographic events:
the disused foyer of the STABI (state library) in Berlin. Placards detailing the 350 year history of this building are read by no one. It stands like the remaining shell of the hollowed promises of the enlightenment.
Air quality in Europe has now degraded to such an extent that once famous landmarks seem to vaporise before one’s eyes, bringing new meaning to Marx’s famous quote: ‘all that is solid melts into air’.