Imaging North Korea: Exploring its Visual Representations in International Politics


  • The paper has been presented at the 51st Annual Convention of the International Studies Association, New Orleans, February 17–20, 2010 and at the 60th Political Studies Association Annual Conference, March 29–April 1, 2010, Edinburgh, UK. The authors would like to thank Rosemary Shinko, Patrick Köllner, and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and criticism on earlier versions of the article. This work was supported by a grant from the Academy of Korean Studies (AKS-2010-R34).


North Korea puzzles many observers. Mostly, it is referred to as the most isolated country in the world, being a timeless mystery, enigma, or terra incognita. While these characterizations reveal the presupposition of a genuine void of knowledge concerning the assessment of North Korean state affairs (however, without preventing scholarship from producing, compiling and depending on information regarding North Korea), they also point to the significance in filling this knowledge gap. The article argues that images play an important role in this operation and provides a discussion of selected photographic essays and single images depicting North Korea. Images work; they do something by evoking a particular perspective of what is shown in them allowing only specific kinds of seeing. Relating the viewer and the viewed in ways that determine what or who is (in)visible, images create boundaries and difference which, in turn, affects who “we” and “they” are.