For decades the misery and repression of apartheid Cuba has been glossed over by many artists who attempt to portray life on the island prison as a never-ending party full of happy, colorful natives. Now, one photographer is giving North Korea the same “Cuba” treatment.
Why This North Korean Street Style Story Is Dangerous
Even in the bleakest corners of the earth, if you’re searching for beauty, you’re guaranteed to find it. So when photographer Mihaela Noroc went to North Korea as part of her project, Atlas of Beauty, the stunning portraits she was able to capture tell a story not often told about the Hermit Kingdom. But is it the truth?
Noroc has made a name for herself traveling to more than 40 countries and photographing women, in natural light, who stare directly into her camera. “I think everybody has to cultivate their own beauty, rather than copying something that doesn’t [suit them],” she writes in her mission statement. “Beauty is everywhere, and it’s not a matter of cosmetics, money, race, or social status, but more about being yourself.” Through her work, Noroc hopes to celebrate diversity around the world, to celebrate the beauty of diversity. But what happens when she’s capturing beauty in a country that doesn’t celebrate diversity, and punishes its citizens for presenting anything other than a very narrow, government-dictated image of what is appropriate?
Noroc, however, seems unconcerned about the politics that govern the nation — even if those politics also severely limit the ability of women to express themselves in ways as small as through their personal style. “My project is about normal people, not about politicians,” she tells us — and to her credit, she does find a variety of women to photograph, from factory workers to waitresses to singers. But if her definition of beauty is contingent on the ability to “be yourself,” then these North Korean portraits have not fulfilled her mission.
Yes, the photos are an interesting look at the women of North Korea. Out of context, the photos are objectively beautiful, and the women are, too, because all women are beautiful, especially when they appear happy, healthy, and empowered. But when you consider that these women live in a nation where the United Nations estimates some 84% of households deal with “borderline or poor food consumption,” the photos start seeming like a red herring that distracts from those very problems to tell a false story in which the women living there have agency.
Read the entire article HERE.