North Korean portraits | Unperson

This is the first portrait of my new series about North Korean defectors.


When Kim Pil-joo was a young boy, his mom was often traveling to China illegally to purchase and sell products. Every time she got back, a smell of candy and sweets was invading their home. He imagined China as a big candy factory. At 12, during a rough year of famine in the country, he experienced a public execution. The man had stolen a copper safety line from a mine and tried to sell it. It took him two attempts to manage to escape North Korea. His mom was already in China and it was a question of survival. When he finally arrived in South Korea, he was first shocked by how welcomed he was by the local government. All his life he was told how evil the South Korean were. Even thou he now lives and studies in the south, he finds it difficult to integrate fully the social and hope for a unique identity, where north and south are just one.

To reflect this incredible transition, I chose to portray those defectors on an analog material that is not supposed to exist. Just as their situation, the negative of a Polaroid is not supposed to be usable. It is only obtained through a series of chemical purification’s of the back paper of the original image. The result is often uncertain, dirty and imperfect. This series of portraits is the first chapter of a project reflecting on North Korea and the notions of borders and identity.

The complete series is available for publication upon request @