North Korean Life

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North Korean Life

Since South-North relations began to show signs of improvement in the nineties, images of modern North Korea no longer remain a rarity. But how did North Korea appear following the Korean War? Until now, images of North Korea in the fifties were hard to come across. The very scarcity of pictures reiterated how distant and separate the North lay from the South in those difficult times.

An invaluable collection of photographs detailing North Korea in the fifites has just been published. Captured by an East German architect, Erich Robert Ressell (1919-1975), who arrived in North Korea as a member of the restoration project 'Baustab Korea' in 1956, the 250 photographic images in the book tell a vivid story. Under the title "East German Architect Ressell Remembers North Korea," the book was published through the collaborative efforts of Paik Seung-jong, professor of history at Sogang University, and the Ressell family.

Ressell took more than 82 rolls of pictures with his two cameras in one year. Although taking pictures in North Korea meant struggling with bureacrats from the North Korean government, Ressell traveled all over North Korea and capture a North Korea foreign to many of us. Approximately 3,500 of his photographs remain today, of which 80 are color-prints.

The book is divided into four parts. The first part portrays the beautiful landscapes of Ressell's favorite region, Kyesung. The second part focuses on the cultural traditions of North Korea; the third part shows poignant images of war-ravaged lands; and, the last part reveals politically significant scenes of Kim Il-sung and his regime.

Ressell fled with his family to West Germany in 1959. He gave up his much-honored status as an associate professor of architecture at the reknown Weimar Architectural College and chose to live free. However, freedom did not find him easily in West Germany. Constantly plagued by American intelligence agencies questioning his past relations to North Korea, Ressell was forced to give up many of his personal letters and correspondence from North Korea. Ressell, however, managed to hide the pictures safely and pass them on to his children. According to Ressell's family, "he always reminisced fondly about North Korea while flicking slowly through each picture.".
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