All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players.”
– William Shakespeare
For the past 70 years, the North Korean regime has promulgated juche, the pervasive doctrine of self-reliance. The DPRK has long struggled against foreign occupation, moulding into the collective consciousness a deep acrimony towards outside influence while remaining the last frontier of isolationism in the modern world. However, despite its tendency toward seclusion, North Korea has raised its curtain in recent years, allowing a small and tightly controlled audience of Western tourists to visit the secretive state.
For more than a decade, I have been fascinated by the DPRK, longing to travel there and experience the infamous Hermit Kingdom. Finally, in October 2015, I traveled to North Korea during the 70th anniversary celebrations of the Worker’s Party of Korea. The government’s pageantry was a lavish affair: a meticulously choreographed performance featuring thousands of goose-stepping soldiers and a legion of military vehicles rolling through Kim Il-sung Square, and then thundering along Pyongyang’s boulevards, thronged on either side by the flag-waving masses.
I expected this demonstration of might, showing the world and reassuring the collective that North Korea is strong, its leadership firmly in control. But the DPRK’s theatrics are not limited to such occasions. To make the nation appear prosperous to foreign visitors, North Korea has scripted an elaborate fictional production that never breaks for intermission, every aspect visitors’ experience carefully stage-managed as we ourselves became guest players in this real-life theatrical performance.
On the rare occasions when we were permitted to marvel upon a garish monument, wander an empty square or gape at an elaborate show, I was always more interested in what was happening stage left or right than in what was taking place at the centre of the stage, much to my minders’ chagrin. This series of photography represents my experience as an audience member marveling at the rehearsed mass spectacle that is North Korea, and as a player endeavouring to peak behind the curtain, glimpsing brief and unscripted moments of the Hermit Kingdom’s individual people.
About the Artist
It was Scott A. Woodward (b. 1974, Canada/Singapore)’s father who taught him about photography when he was a young boy: how to operate a manual camera and skillfully interpret light and imaginatively compose an image. Most importantly, his dad instilled in him a sense of curiosity and adventure, traits that truly make Woodward a photographer.
In fact, to this day, one of his father’s favourite expressions is, “You never know if you never go.” Woodward adopted this saying and made it his maxim — his life’s philosophy — that he carries with him every day.
Woodward calls his photographic style “Choose Your Own Adventure Photography” after the books he used to read as a child. Literally and creatively, he can go one direction and discover a remarkable photographic opportunity; or he can go another direction and find something entirely different. It is this serendipity that is the beauty of photography for Woodward.
Woodward’s unique and sensitive photographic style has resulted in him being twice honoured by Luerzer’s Archive as one of the “200 Best Advertising Photographers Worldwide” and chosen by Nikon as “One of Asia’s Finest Photographers”.
His work features regularly in international publications such as National Geographic Magazine, GEO, Condé Nast Traveller, Travel + Leisure, Monocle, Vogue, GQ, Esquire, The Financial Times and The New York Times.
Woodward has photographed international advertising campaigns for celebrated global brands Google, Adidas, MasterCard, Bacardi, InterContinental Hotels, Standard Chartered Bank, Nestle, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever. And, in partnership with Johnnie Walker, Scott hosted a travel and photography television series on The HISTORY Channel Asia.
Woodward is also a Nikon Singapore Ambassador, a SanDisk Extreme Team Photographer and a Getty Images Global Assignments Photographer.