North Korea by Stephan Gladieu

February 8, 2023

Going once to North Korea is difficult, going 5 times in 3 years is extremely difficult. A series of portraits on North Koreans and their relationship with individual identity in a country where the self doesn’t exist.

north korea

Stephan Gladieu is a self-taught photographer that started his career by documenting conflicts and social issues that agitate the world. He then created his own style by combining aesthetic and documentary photography.

Stephan creates iconic, luminous and offbeat representations, blurring the boundaries between fiction and reality. The variations in the use of colors, over-energized or overaged according to the necessity of the story, is at the heart of his photographic writing. Today, he uses the serial portrait to question the relationship between identity and appearance. In particular by deciphering the standardization of collective ideals that "make society" and reveal the paradoxical character, both unique and multiple of individual identity.

The seriality of the portrait allows him to create a fable in a frozen time, where the rigorous association between the subject and the background restores a concentrate of realities.

Stephan Gladieu’s work is regularly exhibited in France and abroad, notably at the Rencontres d’Arles, the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris, the Museum of Photography in Charleroi (Belgium), the Museum of the Five Continents in Munich (Germany), the World Bank’s headquarters in Washington (USA), the War Museum in Paris and the Caen Memorial.

The North Korea series is built on the repetition of 1, the individual being only an inseparable component of the collective reality. My approach echoes the dynastic and dictatorial regime that, in a context of permanent tension, has chosen collectivism that makes its people invisible. Framed and accompanied step by step throughout my stays in North Korea, I invented a space of freedom within the framework im- posed on me. To capture the identity of these people and capture the off-screen of the official doctrine, I chose the por- trait, often full-length, inviting frontal posing and direct gaze. By approaching the codes of propaganda images in this way, I made my approach, if not fami- liar, at least understandable by North Koreans. A gamble in a country where the individual does not exist and where the singular has no reality in this society where everything is plural, collective and communal.