In George Orwell’s dystopian novel “1984”, an “unperson” is someone who has been vaporised, whose record has been erased. Similarly, the North Korean defectors that Tim Franco chose to portray have decided to disappear, fleeing sometimes for ideological reasons and often out of despair. 

The road to South Korea is dangerous and can take years, across the many different borders with Mongolia, Laos, Thailand and China. The travels of the ones that do are filled with the fear of being arrested and sent back to labour camps. Having arrived in South Korea, they often struggle to find a new identity, lost between their North Korean past and South Korean future.

To reflect this incredible transition, Tim Franco used an analog material that is not supposed to exist: the negative of a polaroid revealed through a series of chemical purifications, resulting often in something uncertain, dirty and imperfect.

Each portrait goes side by side with the story of how and why the subjects came to this radical decision. In order to retrace their trails, Franco travelled to the crossing points, aiming to capture the diversity of landscape that is the background of North Korean defection. 

Curated by He Yining

First image
“I built my own boat out of trees to escape with my family to South Korea” – Park Myeong-Ho is a North Korean defector who escaped to South Korea.
Second image
A destroyed bridge between North Korea in China across the Yalu river. The river is frozen during most of the winter month and allows safe passage for the defectors.

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