Eddo Hartmann: North Korea (2014–17)

Eddo Hartmann (born 1973) is a Dutch photographer who works in a manner I can now – having read Charlotte Cotton’s The Photograph as Contemporary Art – identify as deadpan. A few days ago Hartmann was announced as winner of the Series category in Lensculture’s 2018 Exposure Awards for his study of North Korea, undertaken during four visits to the country between 2014 and 2017.

Hartmann’s deadpan style of photography could not be more well suited to capturing the essence of Pyongyang and its inhabitants. Hartmann is quoted on his own website as saying: “Within North Korea’s collective character, the individual is just a pixel. It’s exactly that pixel that I’m looking for and their significance within the city.” The cool detachment of his images of smart, colourfully dressed people dwarfed by the monumental proportions of the stone-clad buildings they inhabit does just that.

A writer friend of mine travelled to North Korea a couple of times around the same period as Hartmann. He too was given permission to take photographs, but in Hartmann’s words: “A man with a camera in North Korea faces rigid control and regulations concerning what to shoot and how it should be shot.” As a writer and storyteller, my friend tried to find a way of bringing some sense of character and individuality to the subjects of his photographs. Of course he was not able to do so and was disappointed with his photos.

Hartmann, on the other hand, understands the power of the deadpan approach to reveal the human aspect of the subjects without needing them to connect with the camera. We see at once the tension between the individual and collectivist idealism, between the vision of a socialist utopia and a depersonalising totalitarianism.

Recalling this story about my friend has made me realise the importance of critical analysis and understanding not just as a tool for analysing the work of others, but also for the ability it provides to see the options available to you in approaching your own work.

Eddo Hartmann, from Setting the Stage: North Korea (2014–17)

References and resources

Cotton, C. (2016) The Photograph as Contemporary Art (3rd ed.). United Kingdom: Thames & Hudson.
Hartmann, E. (2018) Eddo Hartmann. Available from: http://www.eddohartmann.nl [accessed 17/02/18]
Lensculture (2018) ‘Exposure Awards 18: Winners and Finalists’. Available from: https://www.lensculture.com/2018-lensculture-exposure-award-winners?modal=eddo-hartmann-the-winner-of-exposure-awards-2018 [accessed 17/02/18]