Miss Kim by Eric Lafforgue

Miss Kim is a guide in the War Museum in Pyongyang, North Korea. She speaks perfect  French as she lived in Algeria when she was a kid. So in 2008, she took care of the 25 French tourists who came in her museum.


Do Americans come to visit this War museum? What do they think of the visit?


They make excuses!


The American tourists?


Yes, at the beginning of the tour, they won’t admit it, but after visiting the museum, they admit their crime, and apologize.


The guide:

This helicopter left South Korea, and went over the military demarcation line, there were two pilots in the helicopter, one died and the other survived, this is the confession he wrote, it’s an apology letter from the United States government.


Do you think that the two American journalists who were recently captured will have to endure the same fate, that they will have to apologize for entering the territory?


I don’t know…


The (NK) government said that they will be sentenced to ten years manual labor.


Ten years? We have received a letter apologizing, we have sent him (the helicopter pilot) back to his country… ten years? (She seems very surprised)


Last month, two American journalists, two women, were caught by the government.


Last year?


No, this year, a month ago, did you not hear about this? All the media are talking about it, in France, in the US.


Two women journalists? Americans?


Yes yes, they wanted to film and take photos at the border, and the government said that they would get ten years manual labor. You hadn’t heard of this story?


No, it’s the first time I’ve heard of this, but they deserved it, no?


They deserved it?


Yes, they deserved it. Spying is not good.


Website: Eric Lafforgue

32 thoughts on “eric lafforgue – miss kim”

  1. Eric …your picture sums up the beauty and spirit of the human spirit that is at risk under a dictatorship…and I’m a bloke who’s been out with 3 policewomen.
    Nice One !

  2. Nice Portrait – not sure how i feel about her skin tone – doesn’t look natural – But the Q&A is quite humerus.
    It’s interesting to know what they know – They seem to be kept in the dark about everything – perhaps all of the people are treated as though they are in the military and on a need to know basis… very sad.

  3. Glad to see your picture featured on BURN, Eric.

    Eric’s NKPD “body of work” is also quite illuminating:

    Totally with the processing tone of her skin. Eric (and her too, after all) wanted to show us a mask. A mask is not real, but worn. An appearance, a ghostly, if becoming, reminder.

    Her answers are also a mask.

    Though one cannot judge people, or a country from its appearances, all propaganda is to prop us in thinking we should.

    Yet, it is often, as confounded as we may be, the only way to make (non-)sense of N. Korea. There, one is tempted to think what seems unreal is actually real, and what is real is totally…. Surreal.

    Anything coming from the NKPD must question us on the nature of these appearances. Do not ask Eric, ask her (thru the photo).

    Watching Eric’s NKPD gallery, I am forced to reconsider something often heard. That India is another planet. Once you catch a glimpse of N Korea, you instantly know this is the other planet, India has way too much humanity seeping thru to be but from Earth.

    The live theater staged by the NKPD, sometimes it feels as if Fritz Lang had come back to shoot “Metropolis” in color, with apparatchik propagandists breathing on his neck at all time…

  4. This is an incredible one Eric. When the site was loading and I first saw the picture, I was wishing to see a whole essay!!

    As per the face, I could not agree more with Herve. That beautiful mask is what makes the portrait so poweful. The white innocent mask hiding the dark reality….

  5. Wait a minute here!

    Did Eric tell us or someone that his intent was to show a “mask” or is this just another viewer interpretation?

    “The white innocent mask hiding the dark reality….” in the newspaper business we call that editorialising. I have another word for it.

    I would like to hear from the photographer on this before hearing the musings of everyone else.

    Again. I like the photograph very much. I just want to know if that is her skin tone, makeup, or did the photographer manipulate the image. And if he did, why.

  6. I am another viewer who finds meaning in the masklike countenance of this lovely young woman. The desaturation that highlights her official ribbons and lipstick is haunting. Excellently done, Eric. And I love the addition of the dialogue. Eye-opening…


  7. “I would like to hear from the photographer on this before hearing the musings of everyone else.”

    Pete, I guess since this is an open forum you’ll just have to hear the musings of whomever happens to post a comment ;=)


  8. great portrait and that’s a haunting haunting picture, for literal and metaphoric reasons….the Korea series is very very strong, particularly your access…here, i really love the contrast between her face (including this hyper-bone-moon desaturation) and her bronze button…the finger of hair sliding over her eye, the ‘father’ in red nibbling upon her heart, the intensity between the ‘coldness’ of her official stare and the undeniable warmth that is crawling out from her eyes and expression: the tension between those two things (the young woman, the official role) is so incredibly palpable that you almost imagine that you here her laughing (with joy) against the stilted, distance of her answers and official language….a great collision of contrasts and emotions and physical reactions…

    each time i look at this portrait, i see a different woman and feel a different emotion….and therein lay it’s power, maturity and skill: that it’s a portrait of a woman in a particular place but also allows us to see the humanity that is both present and in defiance in a place such as N.Korea….

    great, luminous, powerful photograph…

    all the best

  9. Pete, Why does it matter so much? Tell us…

    Probably because having seen his entire output on North Korea, I see this portrait as just one image out of it. I also wished Eric had worked out an essay, rather than send only a shot, which is a bit unique within the whole.

    For me, this is an image (therefore an interpretation), not a portrait. I guess I disagree with those who wish to see all kinds of individual human depth to it.

  10. Pete

    “Did Eric tell us or someone that his intent was to show a “mask” or is this just another viewer interpretation?”

    That is indeed my interpretation as a viewer, but, isn’t that what photography is all about? Sometimes telling a story, sometimes asking questions, sometimes leaving things open…..? Is there only one true interpretation (the author one) of a photography?

    ““The white innocent mask hiding the dark reality….” in the newspaper business we call that editorialising. I have another word for it.”

    Just to enrich my vocabulary Pete (I’m Spanish and English is my third language), what word would that be?

  11. It is a beautiful portrait, but I too am disappointed it is a single instead of an essay. Having seen more of the North Korea work, I think there is a fantastic variety of work there which could be used to put together a number of different essays. I wish this was an essay. I really can’t feel much towards this woman though, that’s probably a result of having to endure 8 years of nearly daily threats of nuclear war from a country 30 miles away. Anyone towing the official line and spewing that sick propaganda to me is beyond sympathy. I have empathy for ordinary folks trying to survive in that basket case of a country, but none for government agents like her. Lovely young woman is the last thing I see here.

  12. “That is indeed my interpretation as a viewer….”

    That is fine. BUT if he did not manipulate it, and it is her natural skin tone and not makeup, and it is just a straight portrait… then is it a “mask?”

    Sometime a photograph is just a photograph (albeit a mighty fine one). No deep hidden meaning. Kinda like the musician (cant remember his name) who got fed up with people trying to decipher the meaning (his meaning) of one of his songs. In his words… “Its just a fucking song!”


    I never said it mattered. I like the image. It is stunning. I just get frustrated when people start putting words in the photographer’s mouth (image). I am just curious if he manipulated it, or is it her makeup (her doing) or just a straight photograph.

    Now all that being said. If he did manipulate it to the intent of what people here have been writing, then great.


    The word is bullshit. As in the language bullshit. Every language has a variation of it. Used a a lot by politicians and car salesmen.

  13. R
    Yes, they deserved it. Spying is not good.


    thank god ( i mean Bill Clinton )… they let the two journalists go…
    how about “fuck North Korea”

  14. A gorgeous portrait! I find no maliciousness or hidden meaning in the Q&A… Miss Kim just responds to the world as she knows it.

  15. The intersting thing about some east Asian cultures – they think that white skin is the most beautiful so in places like China – they have their eyes surgically altered to appear more western and their skin is altered to be whiter or they wear makeup – Geishas are classic examples of this.

  16. Beautiful portrait. I have seen tv documentaries saying the same thing we read here in the dialogue. I expect it’s typical of most journalists who visit NK. For all that, its still makes a nice point about the media in NK. I believe the woman knows nothing about the outside world except what she is told and of that she appears to believe every word. I hardly think Koreans are educated to think critically. And I don’t think people just make up lies about theirs and other countries. People are simply misinformed.

    I don’t find the white skin mask-like. Of course it doesn’t look natural either.

    I love the red line at the top of the beret and the horizontal epaulettes.

  17. Because I grew up in communist Czechoslovakia, perhaps I have a different way of seeing this image than others. That said, viewing it without reading the text as I always do, the image really struck me the wrong way. Sort of like communist fashion. Slick, perfect, projecting the plastic, faked, pretend facade all totalitarian regimes wish to drape over our eyes. Yes, I can see where this may be the intention of the artist. If so, well it worked. It still turns my stomach.

  18. I spoke to Eric via email….

    “there a little manipulation on the face of course, but not so much in fact as the picture on Burn is very pale compared to the one i have on Flickr.
    My goal was to show this girl as if she had paused for me in a photo studio (this is impossible to do in North Korea of course!) , and had this so white skin that north korean women love to have. Brown skin means you are a worker, working under the sun, in the fields etc…
    And the second thing is that this girl works all day in the museum of war, where there is no natural light, only dark and huge rooms, and where the temperature is so cold, so i think it is a good way to show the feeling you can have once you follw her inside the museum…a cold beauty.
    sorry but my english is not very good!”

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