Field Notes // Some commentary on a most curious phenomena in the world of covering North Korea.
Whenever North Korea is in the news, media networks, big and small, reputable and not, inevitably run images of TV screens with South Korean broadcasts. Sometimes the broadcasts being photographed are Japanese. It is a strange act of meta-voyeurism in which we viewing other people watching (or not watching) the news. Sometimes the photos are of South Korean or Japanese televisions depicting a rebroadcast of North Korean news broadcasts, adding another layer to this very dream-like peeping Tomism. This habit has even been extended to the public television screen in the small square in front of Pyongyang Station. If I recall correctly, I've even seen this style of photograph in North Korea's Rodong Sinmun.
Is this some kind of pervasive pathogen that has spread along the bits and codes of our digital media? (There are parasitic fungi in this world that can influence animals to act in certain ways.) Or is it some kind of unspoken secret pact or ongoing joke among news photographers? More practically, is it perhaps an economic consideration? There are plenty of photos out there and sometimes photographers make a partial living out of selling them, so it is simply a way of avoiding such a purchase? I suppose it is likely the need for a relevant and timely shot, albeit a rather mundane one, and perhaps a unique by-product of the limitations on journalism in North Korea and some limits of the imagination.
What interests me is the thought process that goes on in the mind of the new photographer. When there is a new story on North Korea, do Seoul and Tokyo-based photographers plan to go find the nearest public television screen? Do photographers have known stakeout spots for when that call comes? (Honest questions: how do copyrights apply to photographs of broadcasts? Or photographs of photographs of broadcasts? What about photographs of photographs of photographs of broadcasts?)
There’s really nothing wrong with all of this, but I am just very curious as to why this occurs with so much frequency and how the photographs are executed. I suppose it is likely the need for a relevant and timely shot, albeit a rather mundane one, and perhaps a unique by-product of the limitations on journalism in North Korea and some limits of the imagination. Oh, did I just repeat myself? It was an honest editorial mistake, although perhaps an excusable one since repetition seems to be in vogue these days, at least when one is on the North Korea beat. On days like this, I wonder if I myself might also make part of my living from photographing TV broadcasts or as an abstract artist.