About the Photographer
French, b. 1959
French photographer Philippe Chancel works at the intersection of documentary and fine art photography, fixing his lens on daily life in North Korea. Ubiquitous flags, murals, monuments and statues transform the landscape into a testament to the regime, praising the party and glorifying its leaders. Chancel’s neutral but refined photographs record the political aesthetic that imbues the everyday, giving it a sense more of theater than reality. This effect is ever present, but never more so than at the Mass Games, the opening event of the two month Arirang Festival held yearly in August and September. In a spectacle of choreographic perfection, 30,000 schoolchildren create mosaics from handheld colored cards, rotating them in unison to produce elaborate displays of North Korean legends and iconographies. Unattended by his state-appointed minders, Chancel was able to photograph the festival freely from a podium directly below the Leader’s. His central position and choice of a wide-angle lens capture the precision and expanse of a scene in which thousands of individuals submit uniformly to an ideology. That this subservience is in fact a daily reality in North Korea is made plain by Chancel’s photographs taken on the street, in which those he encounters appear to enact their own fully scripted fictional performances.
Philippe Chancel completed an economics degree at the University of Paris followed by a post-graduate diploma in journalism at CFPJ in Paris. He has held solo exhibitions at the Galerie FO.KUS Innsbruck (2014), Biennale de Moscou, Russia (2010), Galerie LC, Paris (2008), French Institute, Tokyo (2006), and the French Institute, Bratislava, Slovakia (2002), among others. His works are held in the collections of the National Foundation for Contemporary Art (FNAC), the Collection HSBC France, and the National Library of France. He lives and works in Paris.