“A photographic exploration of a divided country.” That’s how photographs from Dieter Leistner covering North and South Korea have been described. The photographer’s experiences in Germany stirred in him an interest in North and South Korea, which led to his new book Korea-Korea.
The Story of Dieter Leistner
The book features a brilliant project by architectural photographer Leistner. He was born in East Germany at the time the Berlin wall was constructed. It wasn’t until he was 37 that the wall fell. So, what’s the connection between these countries and this artist?
“Until 1989, both Germans and Koreans suffered the same fate of living in a divided land,” notes the book description on Amazon. “The historical reasons for the separation of Germany into east and West and Korea into north and south are very different and therefore difficult to compare. Still, the many similarities of Korea’s division ― the segregation of its citizens, the tearing apart of families who could no longer have contact with one another, the suffering of those who attempted to escape and paid with their lives or years spent in prison or work camps ―make it almost impossible for Germans to visit Korea without thinking of their country’s own experiences.”
Leistner began the project in 2006, in Pyongyang, North Korea. He actually had both the opportunity and official permission to photograph public spaces in Pyongyang — which was rare. “His images show bus stops with long lines of people waiting, spruced up government buildings, bronze statues of Communist heroes, soldier cemeteries, flower markets, and wide avenues with only a few cars and people. He then finished it off in 2012, in Seoul, Korea.”
His goal was to reveal the differences between the two countries, specifically focusing on public spaces. As you browse throught the above slideshow, you’ll notice that he observed bus stops, public squares, subway cars, monuments, and more.
Love his work? You can obtain a copy of “Korea-Korea” by clicking here.
The forward of the book by curator Klaus Klemp contains a fascinating perspective on Koreans and Germans:
Up until 1989, Koreans and Germans shared the same fate, although for quite different reasons. While the division of Germany was the result of a terrible war unleashed by Germany across the whole of Europe, the creation of a capitalist South and a communist North Korea was the result of Japanese occupation and a proxy war that the former World War II allies and later Cold War antagonists carried out on Korean soil. German division into West and East and the Korean division into South and North are thus not entirely comparable. But this constellation of the division of a nation, with people cut off from each other, families torn apart, a total blackout on all contact, and the suffering of many victims who paid with their lives or years in labor camps for any attempts to flee is particularly painful for the German observers who can remember their own similar experiences.