A story about celebrating life and the strength of a community Photographer Catherine Hyland’s interest in North Korea was triggered while reading Barbara Demick’s book Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea. She started attending meetings for North Korean defectors in London and discovered that the suburb of New Malden in South London is home to the largest group of North Korean defectors outside of the Korean Peninsula. She reached out to this community and found a group of people that celebrates life through dance, singing and other community-focused activities. Thanks to the LUMIX Stories for Change project, she was able to do a film- and photo project about this community.
Around 600 defectors have settled in New Malden to build a new life, free from the regime. Defectors live complicated lives, constantly traversing the gulf between then and now. The brutality of the regime is impossible to imagine: starvation, propaganda, political pressure and punishments are just some of the extreme problems they face daily. Everything is decided for them. Free will does not exist. Even after defecting, the psychological and cultural adjustment can be hard, due to the extreme conditions people have endured. In New Malden, the Korean Senior Citizen Society forms a community for these defectors. It enables them to share memories, engage in all kinds of activities and participate in lessons. In her film and photo project, Hyland documents the members of this society and explores how rituals connect us in times of change and displacement.
After teaming up with Gem Fletcher, she found and made contact with The Korean Senior Citizen Society, a volunteer-run group that operates from the back room of a charity shop. The members, mostly seniors, cook and share meals together. They organise all kinds of activities, ranging from English lessons to traditional Korean musical instrument lessons. There are choir practices and traditional dancing. The community is very important for the senior members, as it provides them with a safe environment, a chance to keep traditions alive, and they can share their hopes and dreams for the future. With the project, Hyland wanted to challenge stereotypes and assumptions about North Korean people and the lives they lead.
Instead of focusing on the negative and the trauma that is associated with living under the North Korean regime, she wanted to make something uplifting. That’s why she decided to highlight the rituals as well, because they bind people to home and to each other.She worked with a translator, who was able to introduce her to people and places she would not have otherwise known about. Because she took the time to listen to their stories she won the trust of community members. She made several films and did a studio shoot for this project. The studio shoot was a memorable day for Hyland. Working together with her brother, set designer Danny Hyland, and DOP Jorge Luis Dieguez, she prepared a stage on which members of the dance troupe could perform and express themselves.
According to Hyland, this studio day empowered the community members, because they were in charge: all she asked them to do was perform their favourite dances. For the project, Hyland used the LUMIX S1R with a LUMIX 24-105mm lens ,and the LUMIX S1 with a LUMIX S PRO 50mm lens. It enabled her to easily switch between shooting stills and footage.
LUMIX Stories for Change is a collaboration between LUMIX and British Journal of Photography driving change through the medium of photography.
Catherine Hyland is an artist based in London. Her photography centres around people and their connection to the land they inhabit. Primarily landscape based, her work is rooted in notions of fabricated memory, grids, enclosures and national identity.
Her large format images depict humanity’s attempts – some more effective than others – to tame its environment. An observation that has led to both artistic and commercial outreach, with residences at venues such as Focal Point gallery in Southend for the RADICAL ESSEX programme and has exhibited work at Month of Photography Los Angeles, Renaissance Photography Prize, National Portrait Gallery, Royal Photographic Society, LES MAGASINS GÉNÉRAUX, Somerset House, Design Museum in London, ICA & MAC in Birmingham. Hyland’s ongoing projects highlight humanity’s attempts to tame and transform nature, both past and present.
British Journal of Photography
British Journal of Photography is the longest-running photography title in the world. The monthly magazine celebrates photographers who are reinventing the medium and how it shapes the way we see the world. From long-form features to the daily editorial published on BJP-Online, BJP explores the work of artists freed from the aesthetic conventions and ideologies that held back their predecessors.