A Night in Pyongyang

Prototype and final book

On the road in the land of the great leader

Practice session of the “Backdrop boys”. Video courtesy of Paul Tanner

If you want to watch the show with music, here are some North Korean hits:

Illustrated book about the Massgames in Pyongyang, North Korea, the biggest show in the world

Published by Nicolai-Verlag Berlin

out of print / for remaining copies please contact me

Making of

During my days on Munich film school I saw for the first time a picture of the North Korean Massgames: thousands of dancers moving in perfect synchronicity on a huge playing field. The photo burned on me, I had never seen anything like it before – but the thought of actuelly going to North Korea and watching the show myself seemed so absurd that I immediately dropped it again. It took a few years before I had the courage, together with my best friend, to try it after all. With Koryo Tours we found a travel agency in Beijing, which had specialized in North Korea travel and according to its own statements had brought thousands of tourists into the country – and each of them back home safely. We decided to take the risk, got on a plane to Beijing and flew with a small group to Pyongyang. It turned out to be the most bizarre trip I’ve ever experienced.

Developing mass gymnastics is important in training schoolchildren to be fully developed communist people.

Kim Jong-il, April 1987

But the most bizarre experience was the Massgames itself. The first impression of this gigantic show was so intense that on the first evening after leaving the stadium I didn’t think I had just seen it with my own eyes. Fortunately we were able to persuade our tour guide to see the show again, so that on the second evening I could assure myself that I would actually be here and really experience it all. It was madness.

I had already thought that the show would be great, after all I had flown halfway around the world especially for it. So I had bought a small but very bright and long lens for my camera in Beijing and shot with it a quite spectacular picture series. For a long time I did not know what exactly to do with the pictures until I showed them to a head of an agency with whom I was working and who had published an illustrated book in the Nicolai publishing house at that time. He was so impressed by my images that he recommended me to Hans von Trotha, then head of the publishing house. Trotha liked my photos, but still hesitated because he was afraid of the risk of publishing a book by a completely unknown photographer about a dance show in the world’s most bizarre military dictatorship. Only when I and my friend and graphic designer Felix Kempf produced a prototype of the book that Trotha could show around at the various book fairs, things got moving. In the autumn of the same year I finally had the illustrated book in my hands – the first and to this day the only one about the North Korean Mass Games.

     Interview in newspaper “Die Welt

     Article in the adverstising blog Reklamehimmel

Part 2 of the Massgames project can be found here.