3DPRK – North Korea

Invited to document North Korea in 3D by Koryo Studio, Slovenian photographer Matjaž Tančič wanted to show something of the people who live there, stripped of rhetoric. Choosing to take portraits of people in North Korea invites controversy, criticism and significant challenges. In the eyes of the Western world, North Korea is one of the few countries where photographic voyeurism is celebrated. Working within the rules of the North Korean regime invites accusation of being naïve or, worse, a ‘useful idiot’ of taking on the work of a complex and powerful propaganda machine. North Korea is one of the most restrictive societies on Earth; all visitors to the country must be invited, and all are required to travel with guides representing the organization that invited them. There have been multiple instances in the past of ‘tourists’ repackaging and selling their images to the global press. In North Korea there is an inherent distrust of Western photographers. Capturing a ‘rare glimpse’ of a North Korean person, photographed at speed from a moving bus, or through a doorway, taps into our colonial desire to be the ‘first’ to see something, and in doing so successfully captures the interest of a Western audience. The ‘rare glimpse’ has become so oxymoronically common, we can now call it a trope of North Korean photography. But forgotten, or dismissed, in this never-ending quest for unseen images in our over-stimulated modern world, are the subjects of these ‘rare glimpses’: the North Korean people whose images have been captured. This specific nature of the 3D technique he used required introduction and demonstration and encouraged interest and exchange between photographer and subject. This exchange, facilitated by our guides, translators and interested onlookers allowed us to bypass, somewhat, the more commonly experienced relationship between western photographers in North Korea and those that they photograph, typified by a lack of direct interaction and explanation of intent and purpose. Among the more than 100 portraits we captured, there is a boxing champion learning to ice skate, a photographer in forest, a worker in and iconic steel complex and an international worker with the Red Cross. These are the people we met in North Korea, and who we present in 3D.

Timekeepers – China

What really keeps time – clocks or memories? »Timekeeper« is a series of 3D photographs by Matjaž Tančič, inspired by the set up of Hui-style living rooms in the old village houses of Yixian. As one enters these dwellings, the eye is again and again greeted by the same sight: a small altar comprised of a clock, two vases and a mirror. Why were these altars created? What do they signify? In Chinese, the Zhong Sheng Ping Jing (clock, vases, mirror) has the same pronounciation as lifelong tranquility. But what at first glance gives the impression of sacred artifacts and hints at an exciting tradition, is later revealed to be only objects to the majority of today’s villagers. Just a clock, two vases and a mirror. The young have all but forgotten the original purpose of their house altars, just as old traditions and ancestral values slowly but surely fade away. The »timekeepers« now tell a new story – a story of today. The old clock may be replaced or even lost, but then perhaps another object will take its place, transforming the altar into a reflection of the household. Photo albums, medicines, wrist watches, toys or food are now all part of the set up and tell the story of the altar’s current owners – farmers, tea growers, retired teachers and artists. Individuals from several different villages are featured in the photos with an altar of clock, two vases and a mirror. The 3D technique lets the spectator get closer and experience the story more intimately. As the altars changed, so have the villages. They are way past their prime, the young people desiring the hustle and bustle of the city. Trade has also found new home in large urban areas, turning the once wealthy village merchants into a mere memory. What remains are their luxurious houses that have now seen centuries, and in them – small altars that keep old memories and tell new stories. Timekeepers.

Heroes – Samos Refuges

Gods and Men Told throughout time are the stories of ordinary men and women who transcend their mortality to become myths, icons, legends – gods who walk the earth. But what is it that elevates one individual above the rest? How does a human of flesh and blood transform into an idea? Slovenian photographer MatjažTančič (b. 1982) probes into the question, asking why some lives are deemed worthier than others, by looking to one of the most vulnerable populations of contemporary times: refugees. He travelled to the Greek island of Samos, one of the main European gateways for Syrian, Middle Eastern and African refugees and migrants, as well as a land marked by a long history of art and culture. “The connection to mythological heroes followed naturally from the fact that the island’s migrants and refugees took the very same sea routes and dangerous itineraries as the heroes of ancient mythology”, Tančič explains. “But the analogy does not stop there: like their mythological precursors, they had enough courage and strength to brave a long journey through uncertain seas in order to find a better future.” Tančič started by collecting stories and documentary photos of refugees, migrants and humanitarian workers, interweaving his own images with archival materials from a Greek textbook, and printing his photographs onto life jackets and pieces of rubber boat that he found on the island’s remote beaches. The resulting series provides a layered reading of a concrete modern crisis told with the symbolic language of a timeless tale. More about the project on: www.samosheroes.com

Punk in Myanmar

Punk is not dead, at least not in Myanmar. There was lots said and done on this topic in previous years but as a punk nostalgic I just wanted to go for a special New Years concert. The concert happened under a highway in the suburbs of Yangon and the only source of the electricity was an electric generator in the corner. After a bottle of the local whiskey shared with the crowd I could not resist shooting. Photos won the best series award in the category of culture in Slovenia Press Photo award in 2017.

First bodyguard school in China

Surprisingly, until Chen Yongqing, a former soldier, decided to open his Genghis Security Academy, nobody in China had tried to professionalize bodyguard training business. But, in a country that every year adds new names to its list of millionaires, the idea was bound to be a success. We get behind the gates of the school to know who this first generation of Chinese professional bodyguards are, and how they are trained, either learning how to fight and protect their employer, or or just taking some classes to learn how to keep their bosses’ agenda well-organized.

Fading Neon – Hong Kong

Neon lights have been a staple of Hong Kong’s nightscape for decades, each and every corner of the city basking in their gentle light. The use of neon lights became wildly popular as a new advertisement method during the 1950s, when the economy of the city started growing and a consumerist society quickly developed. Vying for attention in the crowded streets of the former British colony, each business owner tried to outmatch their neighbor’s neon signs, erecting ever taller and bigger billboards. Soon, gleaming Chinese characters, sleek dragons and suggestive figures populated the night sky of Hong Kong, promising all kinds of amusements to the visitors of the “Pearl of Orient”. According to CityLife, a Hong Kong tourism magazine, up to 90% of the main neon lights of the city have disappeared during the last 20 years. “Neon has been the light of the city for a really long time, you couldn’t escape from it. You saw Hong Kong through neon lighting or because of neon lighting,” says Aric Chen, lead curator of design and architecture at the M+museum, focused on Hong Kong’s visual culture. Before the museum opened its doors, Chen curated M+’s first online exhibition in 2014, a highly popular website that celebrated the city’s neon installations, fuelling a nostalgic movement to rediscover them. Graphic designers and artists have bought into the initiative’s goals, creating new indoor neon signs and installations, and pushing for the revival of an icon of Hong Kong’s identity. “A lot of culture coming from China is influencing Hong Kong in different ways,” says Kwok. “People are becoming aware of the disappearance of Hong Kong’s culture, and want to retain it,” he says. This comeback has helped some of the companies still creating and installing neon billboards to find a new way to survive after years of losses. After more than three decades in the business, Frank Sin decided to launch his own company at the end of May, Frank Sin Neon Light Business, which manufactures and provides maintenance for neon lights. In less than a month, his new workshop has already received six orders. This new business-owner says that the demand for neon lights went up in 2012, when local artists and designers, sometimes returning from overseas, became aware of Hong Kong’s characteristic neon heritage. “Even earlier I would convince some customers to use neon lights instead of LED,” he says. But others don’t think this is a sustainable model. Wu Chi-Kai, one of the last neon lights craftsmen working in Hong Kong, says that his workshop can’t be sustained “through small-scale projects” and says that his workshop’s revenue is down 80% from 25 years ago. At the same time, technicians able to repair fragile neon tubes are more difficult to find than ever and their services are becoming pricier, shopkeepers complain. The result is that even the most iconic signs still standing in the streets might have two or three color tubes burned out, or some of the parts blinking gloomily. Text by: Eduard Fernandez

Last train home

China’s high-speed rail network is the world’s biggest, but in rural Sichuan province, steam trains – which come with a historyof darkness and beauty – offer portals to a slower-paced yesteryear. Last December, China’s state-owned train system operator China Railway Corporation proudly announced that the country was home to the world’s biggest high-speed train network. State media gushed about 124,000km of standard railway plus 22,000km of high-speed rail lines – more than the rest of the world’s com- bined – zig-zagging across China. By 2030, the latter digit will have more than doubled, we are promised. Critics point to China Railway Corporation’s huge debts, deepened by many loss-making routes, but for now, China’s train revolution is very much on the rails, its vehicles connecting the hyper-modernizing country’s cities at speeds sometimes nudging 400km/h. All this is in extreme contrast to the Jiayang Railway in the rural depths of China’s central Sichuan province. Around 200km south of Chengdu – where the population stands at 14.5 million people – on a narrow 19.8km track, the country’s last six functioning coal-powered steam trains – hissing, parping, brown-cloud- belching chuggers – trundle along, cutting through bamboo thickets and yellow rapeseed fields at little over human jogging pace. Text by: Jammie Fullerton