We first discovered this work after it was submitted to the Visual Storytelling Awards 2014. Although it was not chosen as a finalist by the jury, the editors of LensCulture were impressed and decided to publish this feature article about it. Enjoy!

Icons of Rhetoric
(IOR) is a text and image project that concerns itself with the visual representation of North Korea and the contextualization of media images. The project explores the visual lexicon which permeates North Korean, often cited as the “most isolated country in the world.”

IOR investigates the ways in which translation—image, and the act of making images combined with where the image performs—serves as a form of transmission and circulation of ideas, ideologies, and forms of knowledge. Between geographical locations, historical moments, and cultural contexts, images reflect how we receive and perceive images in the digital era, raising questions about authenticity.

The series looks in to how Western society and media receive and perceive images from North Korea. The working process of the project includes the studying of North Korean news footage online, movies, and literature. Photographs, re-taken—or re-interpreted—using smartphones, were then turned into Polaroids, playing on the aesthetic of authenticity.

IOR approaches North Korea in a way best described by ethnologist and North Korea expert Sonia Ryang: “To abstract the cultural logic that runs through North Korean society as an undercurrent to its human relations,” preferring an interpretative analysis, rather than a more empirical one. Icons of Rhetoric contextualizes North Korean culture as it is told to North Koreans in their daily life; it comprehends the perspective of what the DPRK tells its own citizens as if no one foreign eye were watching.

I use pre-existing content to investigate “perception” and context following Fred Ritchin’s [author of “Bending the Frame: Photojournalism, Documentary and the Citizen’” school of thought about the emergence of art photography and photojournalism in a time of “inward looking mirrors and outward looking windows.”

—Chris Barrett