Photo show offers rare glimpse of life in N. Korea

By Maria Sanminiatelli

Associated Press

Published: Thursday, March 15 2012 7:40 p.m. MDT

Korean Central News Agency Senior Vice President Kim Chang Gwang, center, asks KCNA vice director of photography Song Jong Gon, left, a question about a photo as Associated Press Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll, right, looks on during an opening reception for the Window on North Korea: Photographs from the DPRK photo exhibit, Thursday, March 15, 2012, in New York. The exhibit, which marks 100 years since the birth of former North Korean leader Kim Il Sung, is a joint exhibition by The Associated Press and the Korean Central News Agency.

Jason DeCrow, Associated Press

NEW YORK — An exhibit that opened Thursday offered New Yorkers a rare glimpse of life inside North Korea, including children singing in a theater, stark views of Pyongyang at dusk and North Koreans bowing before a monument of the nation's founder, Kim Il Sung.

"Windows on North Korea: Photographs From the DPRK," is a joint exhibition by The Associated Press and the state-run Korean Central News Agency, and features a mix of archival and contemporary images.

The show was timed to open before the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung on April 15 and comes two months after the AP opened a bureau in Pyongyang, becoming the first Western news organization to do so inside the secretive communist country.

The Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the United States have never had formal diplomatic relations, and the two nations have experienced tensions over the years, particularly over Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions. North Korea has tested two atomic devices in the past six years.

Tensions have recently eased somewhat. Late last month, the United States and North Korea announced an agreement that calls for Pyongyang to freeze its nuclear activities in exchange for food aid. Days later, a senior North Korean nuclear envoy traveled to the U.S. to attend a university forum while the U.S. and North Korea held more talks in Beijing to finalize the food aid.

"It is our hope that this exhibition would give exhibition-goers visual understanding of the people, customs, culture and history of the DPRK, thereby helping to deepen mutual understanding and improve the bilateral relations," Kim Chang Gwang, KCNA's senior vice president, said in an address at the show's opening.

Images on display included a 1953 KCNA photograph showing residents helping to rebuild Pyongyang's central district after the Korean War, AP photos documenting visits by foreign dignitaries, as well as everyday scenes ranging from sunbathers at the beach to shoppers inside a modern department store.

The photographs "give us rare views of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, a nation of great interest to the world, though little known," said Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the AP.

"In this exhibit, we are offered two perspectives of the DPRK — as viewed by her native daughters and sons from KCNA and by AP journalists visiting to chronicle news and daily life there. We can appreciate the different styles and techniques and points of view," Carroll said. "These photographs also show us that different people can find common ground," Carroll said.

Several of the photographs are by AP Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder, who has made many reporting trips to North Korea since 2010.

"Daily life is really what I try to focus on when I'm there. ... It's unscripted, it's candid," Guttenfelder said. "For people to see their own life in other people's lives, I think it has a lot of power to break down barriers."

The show also includes images taken by KCNA journalists who participated in a joint workshop in October led by AP instructors. It runs from March 15 to April 13 at The 8th Floor gallery in New York City.

The AP, an independent news cooperative founded in New York and owned by its U.S. newspaper membership, has operations in more than 100 countries and employs nearly 2,500 journalists across the world in 300 locations.

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