Hiroshi Watanabe—Ideology in Paradise
Renowned historian Orville Schell has likened the experience of visiting Pyongyang, capital of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), akin to that of “visiting a faraway museum where we are able to commune with a series of carefully constructed dioramas based not on life during some past period, but on a far more fantastical world . . . a North Korean hallucination of the future.”
In fact, the experience of looking at Hiroshi Watanabe’s images is eerily like stepping into a Social Realist painting: the ruddy-cheeked young girl playing the accordion, the traditional gowns in brilliant pinks and greens of dancers swirling beneath the omnipresent image of the dear leader and the DPRK flag. One is quietly lulled into the sense that life in North Korea might, in fact, be just as it appears within the frames of these images—normal—instead of like the stories of kidnappings, military posturing, and famine. To Watanabe, it is this sense of tension between the news stories flooding the media in both Japan and in the U.S. and his experiences traveling and photographing—under careful surveillance of his two guides and assigned driver—that interests him in this topic. The results, engaging, yet still mysterious, bring us one side of this closed-off place, introducing us to a vibrant, compelling set of individuals, but still leave us to wonder. —LAM
Hiroshi Watanabe was born in Sapporo, Japan. He graduated from the Department of Photography, College of Art, at Nihon University, in 1975, and later received an MBA from UCLA Business School in 1993. For many years he worked in Los Angeles as a producer of Japanese TV commercials, before rediscovering photography. In 2000, he committed to his photographic work full-time. Since then, his work has been widely published. In 2006, he received the top book award from Photolucida Critical Mass. To view more of Watanabe’s work, go to www.hiroshiwatanabe.com.