Photo by Tomas van Houtryve / VII. Hundreds of dancers perform in the Arirang Mass Gymnastics in Pyongyang, North Korea on Aug. 15, 2007. 100,000 performers participate in the Mass Gymnastics, the largest propaganda spectacle in the world.
I spent seven years photographing countries where the Communist Party is still in power, looking for reasons why the ideology holds fast in some parts of the globe. Visiting North Korea was like arriving on another planet. Nearly every facet of the society had been reshaped by totalitarian impulses. Individual freedom was crushed, and all North Koreans were expected to focus their work, energy, and passion on praising their leaders and mobilizing against external enemies -- both real and imagined. The performers captured in this photograph are participants in the Arirang Mass Games, the largest propaganda show of this kind on earth. Reflecting the North Korean ideology of suppressing the individual in favor of the masses, tens of thousands of trained performers move in formations that create shapes and slogans that praise the Kim dynasty, the military, and the one-party State.
Watching the spectacle was both beautiful and terrifying. The sheer scale of human skill and artistry inspired awe, while the total compliance to a paranoid and merciless political system left me deeply chilled. • Link: www.viiphoto.com/vii-hrw • Dates: The sale begins on November 20, 2017 at 12:00 PM EST and concludes on November 29, 2017 at 5:00 PM EST. • Price: For the price of US$100, each specially editioned 8”×10” photograph is hand-signed by the photographer. The cost of a 28 image box set is US$2000. • Goal: Fifty percent of proceeds will be donated to Human Rights Watch in order to assist them in their important work promoting and protecting human rights worldwide. Proceeds that remain with VII Photo are used to advance the work of photographers focusing on social issues globally and furthering the agency’s core mission: truth and justice.