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In Conversation: Dave Kulesza

In between Dave Kulesza’s non-stop fascination with the hermit kingdom; the overwhelming success of his original series; and the extra time he had up his sleeve this year (thank you, Covid), DPRK: North Korea in Colour – The Extended Series was bound to eventuate.

10 newly released original photographs further explore Pyongyang’s idiosyncratic architecture and favoured pastel colour palette, and new and intriguing locations are revealed – a pastel pink Bowling Alley and a pristine, futuristic Seafood Supermarket, among others.

Here, we speak to Dave about his decision to release a second set exactly one year on from the original release, and his newly-developed appreciation for some of the initially-overlooked images.

This newly-released series of images are an extension of Dave's highly successful original series titled 'DPRK: North Korea in Colour'.

A lot has happened in the world since you released the first collection of this series exactly one year ago. Did you always plan to release a second series one year on, and how does it differ from or complement the first?

The Extended Series wasn’t originally intended, however partially conceived as a result of the success of the original series, and the unforeseen long lockdown period in Melbourne.

During lockdown between June and October, I found I had a lot of time to reflect on the series, go through it again with fresh eyes and begin to produce a follow on series. As the new images were all taken during the same visit in 2019, it was an easy process making the new complement the old, and the images are definitely designed to seamlessly tie in with the original series. It seemed fitting to produce a similar body of work on a significant date which gave me a sense of closure for my 2019 visit.

Dave says: "The Extended Series wasn’t originally intended, however partially conceived as a result of the success of the original series, and the unforeseen long lockdown period in Melbourne."

In between the first and second release we plunged into a global pandemic, bringing with it a lot of isolation; a new experience for many of us. Has your take on this body of work – and its focus on the mysterious and seemingly empty Hermit Kingdom – changed at all?

It hasn’t changed at all. The images are all from my original visit back in August 2019 and the intention for The Extended Series was to seamlessly flow on from the original set. The approach had already been undertaken over a year ago and it honesty wouldn’t have changed if revised today.

Although the ‘emptiness’ in my images of Pyongyang was deliberately created, it unintentionally seemed to hit a little close to home over the past few months.”
— Dave Kulesza
The images were all taken during the same visit to the capital, Pyongyang, in 2019, where Dave was granted access to many locations throughout the hermit kingdom.

Strangely though, I never thought our circumstances over the past few months could relate and offer relevance in those images taken so long ago. Melbourne’s extensive lockdown saw our thriving metropolis foreshadowed by emptiness and a sudden sense of quiet throughout our city.

Although the ‘emptiness’ was just a cosmetic aesthetic I deliberately placed into my approach in documenting the architecture and design inside Pyongyang, it unintentionally seemed to hit a little close to home over the past few months.

"It was an easy process making the new complement the old, and the images are definitely designed to seamlessly tie in with the original series," says Dave.
The emptiness and mystery conveyed in these images was a deliberate aesthetic created by Dave, something that unintentionally hit close to home for many after this year.

Much like the first release, the locations you chose to highlight in this second release are so diverse. Did you have a favourite location in the Capital?

It was quite refreshing having the opportunity to sit down during our extended lockdown and revise the whole series with fresh eyes. It enabled me to rediscover images that I had perhaps initially missed, and appreciate others which I wasn’t able to include originally (due to capacity restraints in the gallery).

Some of my favourite images in the new series, such as the U-Bahn Carriage and Volleyball Stadium, were simply overlooked last year. A few other locations which have been included this time are Hotel Bar and Karaoke spaces, photographed in the late hours of the evening after our long days. They’re examples of a newly developed appreciation, one year on, for the Kitsch style they offer.

All roads always lead back to The Changgwang Health and Recreation Centre. It’s the location which started this whole journey for me personally and it will always remain my favourite location in the Capital.

Revisiting the series with fresh eyes gave Dave the chance to rediscover images he missed, and appreciate others he was unable to include in the original series.
In the last six months, I’ve experienced both ends of extreme. Three months of not picking up a camera to three months of barely having a moment to put it down.”
— Dave Kulesza
The Volleyball Stadium pictured in this image was one of Dave's favourite locations.

As a photographer working across editorial, commercial and personal projects, what has your experience of this year been like and what are your biggest learnings?

2020 has been an absolute rollercoaster and it’s been interesting reflecting on many aspects of my career. In the last six months, I’ve experienced both ends of extreme. Three months of not picking up a camera to three months of barely having a moment to put it down.

In the grand scheme of essential work, it made me realise how unessential my commercial work could be if major shifts occurred in the economy. As many businesses scrambled to recreate and reinvent themselves, I too looked at how I could adapt to the current circumstances.

‘Juche’ is a North Korean ideology based around self management and self reliance. Over an unstable period where I was unable to book work, having a ‘self reliant’ asset, such as my fine art prints, helped create psychological stability and relief on a personal level.”
— Dave Kulesza
Dave's fascination with North Korea continues to grow (pictured in Pyongyang in 2019).
He says there are still so many locations left to explore.

When we can travel freely again, do you have any plans to head back to the DPRK, or any other spots for a future series?

I would absolutely love to create a 2.0 series. My fascination with North Korea only grows stronger by the day and there are still so many locations left to explore. The series has always been a huge passion project and I feel like I can take it even further.

A large challenge moving forward unfortunately is the uncertainty and current state of the world. Covid has thrown so many spanners into the works and I hope there still will be another opportunity to visit. I do count my blessings though having had the chance to visit in 2019, which now feels like such a distant time ago.

He's grateful to have been able to visit and document so much of the capital and still has high hopes for returning for a 2.0 series.

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