Fotopedia North Korea iPad App - image collage

People of North Korea (and the world), we are looking at you

It’s North Korea week here on the blog (and, apparently, everywhere).

Fotopedia has a fantastic series of photo apps, including this one on North Korea. It’s neatly divided into categories – Pyongyang, propaganda, women of North Korea, men of North Korea…you get the picture. I popped it open in bed a few nights ago (something cheery to sleep on…). Right there in my bedroom, North Koreans are looking at me, and I’m looking back at them. The poor, the privileged, the desperate-to-get-out, and the no-idea-there’s-a-problem.

Except. They’re not looking at me, because how could they? How could they know who’s looking at them from halfway across the world? And not just looking, but how: on the subway on my way to work, or in bed at night on a flat screen I’m holding in my hands. Or walking down the street sipping a latte swiping through photos on a phone.

I’m trying to imagine what they could possibly know about where this tiny snippet of their daily life has gone.

There is an entire section on the countryside — a highlight reel of broken down and dated machinery, and human bodies as machines. It’s disturbing to see, but this is also someone’s life. A moment they may never remember again but one that I’ve got locked away forever on my iPad.

Collectively, humanity has never spent so much time looking at each other before. Images travel fast and to places we often can’t even fathom. It’s one thing when it’s the people themselves broadcasting their images in the hopes someone will see them and care. A photo project like this? It’s different.

If you tell me that you saw a picture of me on Facebook, I know exactly what you saw. And I can imagine where you were when you saw. How you saw it.

When a North Korean poses for a photo, can they possibly imagine where it will be seen? Who will be seeing it? There is no sense of my world (I think, though I realize I’m assuming) — of how it smells, sounds, looks. That their photo will become an “app,” be downloaded onto an “iPad”, swiped through before bedtime. It feels vaguely stalker-ish.

Slightly related note… I had a similar feeling a few weeks ago when I stumbled across a 1936 documentary (yes, 1936 and yes, documentary) about the night mail trains. Here we are on a train from London to Scotland, helping passengers with their luggage, pouring tea, chatting with our co-workers. These people are all dead and have no idea of the world we live in now that’s peering backwards in time at them. They can’t even conceive our world, and despite all our technology, how well can we understand theirs?

Worlds do not collide.

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