Reading The Pictures is dedicated to the analysis of news photos and media images.
April 17, 2012

The Young and the Bored: North Korean Censors Letting Their Guard Down?


One of the things I really like about this photo is the theme of “upset” or “universal upset.”  Here are two young, bored people unafraid of showing their boredom in the context of North Korea, a country where the West sees scripted behavior and mass emotional reaction.  An exception to the rule, perhaps: you see none of the distinctive (and often beautifully photographed) monumental icons; no grey-washed representation of totalitarian sameness.  But the made-up, plumped-faced woman, her slouching, careless companion, their position in the front row of an official function (in front of all that brass!), their veiled resentment, automatically beg questions: Who do they know?  Are they favorites or relatives of the powerful and immune from watchers and minders? Are we seeing a policy shift and a relaxation in the typically strict state control, or just a temporary window where the powers-that-be have been distracted  in the shift from one Kim to another?

All at once, the relationships prised out by the camera ask more questions than they answer.

— Karen Hull

(photo: Pedro Ugarte/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images. caption: The occasion of the birthday of Mr. Kim, the country’s founding leader, was also celebrated with a performance at a theater in Pyongyang.)

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