Design Canberra Festival Scenes from the People’s Paradise – Pyongyang – Design Canberra Festival

Scenes from the People’s Paradise – Pyongyang. Photo: Nicole Reed
Scenes from the People’s Paradise – Pyongyang. Photo: Nicole Reed
Past event Free event

Scenes from the People’s Paradise – Pyongyang

‘Scenes from the People’s Paradise – Pyongyang’ is a rare and fascinating glimpse into the Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea (DPRK) – the so-called Hermit Kingdom – from intrepid world traveller and Melbourne-based photographer Nicole Reed.

Shot over the course of five days in early 2019, the resulting works provide an intriguing display of the architecture and people in one of the world’s most secretive cities. Seeking inspiration in one of her interests – architecture – Reed set out to explore the capital city of the DPRK from the perspective of a non-judgemental newcomer. Even with her firmly established reputation for capturing unique experiences and extraordinary atmospheres in countries across the globe, Nicole admits that the scenes in the DPRK were like nothing she had ever witnessed.

“You’re met by your guide at the security desk at the airport, and your passport is taken away and not given back until you leave. It’s actually strangely relaxing because you don’t have to think for yourself, or organise your meals, or talk to anyone without your translator. And there’s absolutely no contact with the outside world – no phone, no Internet. Which means no-one can contact you either!” she explains.

Accompanied by a translator, Nicole was under strict rules about where she could go, what she could see, what she was allowed to photograph, and was unavoidably aware of the large military presence in the city. Nonetheless, she felt comfortable and safe. “I didn’t even think about safety the whole time I was there. Everything was very structured. There’s really not much chance of you getting into trouble if you follow the rules,” she said.

Though her professional body of work for clients spans a range of subject matters – from people to furniture to landscapes – it has always retained a patently artistic feel, which is evident in Nicole’s images of the majestic and imposing buildings of Pyongyang.

Entire streets are filled with distinctive sporting stadiums, with the architecture often based on the sport it was built for – curved outlines for the weightlifting arena and a net-like shape for the table tennis stadium being just two of the many idiosyncratic buildings. City streets and the train station also proved fertile ground for Nicole’s talent at conveying emotion and cultural significance via a single moment in time. Through her lens, a tableau of daily life in the DPRK has an ethereal, almost surreal and painterly ambiance.

‘Scenes from the People’s Paradise – Pyongyang’ aims to evoke a sense of place and mood that can be shared with a wider audience who would otherwise be oblivious to these spectacular and guarded settings. Adding additional elements to the exhibition are a soundtrack and video projection, both of which will be on a loop and provide an authentic backdrop to the photographs as visitors wander through the gallery.

Nicole Reed is a Melbourne-based, award-winning photographer for whom photography is more than just a career – it’s a way of life. Her portfolio spans editorial, documentary, architectural and portrait photography, with a fine art aesthetic evident in all her work. Portraits of high-profile names and faces jump out of Nicole’s portfolio and she has established a reputation for not only capturing her sitter’s personal style and image, but also for offering a deeper portrayal of humanity within each of her subjects. Nicole has a niche talent for capturing urban environments. Her documentation of urban sprawl and abandon demonstrates her talent for social commentary and her innate ability to observe beauty in places overlooked by the untrained eye. Capturing urban environments across the globe, including Indonesia, Japan, USA, China, Europe, North Korea and her backyard of Australia, Nicole’s images stir up contrasting emotions – a sense of mourning and, at the same time, celebration of what these places once were.