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Charlie Crane ‘Welcome to Pyongyang’

 Exhibition dates: 2 May - 21 June 2008 

Charlie Crane's images depict an uneasy portrait of a regime's aspirations.

North Korea - properly known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) - is widely seen as one of the world's most repressive dictatorships.  Following the death of the nations founder Kim II-Sung in 1994 he received the title "Eternal President"; accordingly there can be no subsequent president, rendering politics obselete. Instead, his son Kim Jong-Il has effectively been head of state since. The economy is officially communist, and private property is illegal. Unofficially, the volume of private trade, particularly with China, is growing steadily.

Every foreigner visiting DPRK, whether an individual or group, must be permanently accompanied by one or two "guides", who dictate what can seen and photographed, and who can be spoken to. Ordinarily, we might expect photographers to try to capture candid insights into another country's way of life and workings. Here, that task is by definition impossible; Crane instead asks us what aspirations such scenes present to us - what the official choice of approved subjects reveals about a regime's mentality. As Crane notes, "If there is no possibility of getting underneath the surface then the answer was to photograph the surface itself."  If his images can never reflect the 'reality' of most citizens' lives or tell us the 'truth', what should we believe?

Image: Charlie Crane, from 'Welcome to Pyongyang', 2007