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Seoul eye: Dieter Leistner finds Korea within Korea

See that puffy-haired gal waiting for the bus in her wide blue jeans? She’s Korean all right, but definitely not from the North

서울 아이 dieter leistner (By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013)
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By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
서울 아이 dieter leistner (By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013)
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By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
Pyongyang is poverty-stricken and repressed, but here in Seoul, people are quite stylish and happy with an awesome selection of food to choose from. Stereotypical as it is, this is the most general image that many have of the North and South. Unlike the South Korean locals who make these claims without experiencing the North, German architect and photographer Dieter Leistner, who has been to both countries, argues that the conjured image is a cliché. 
By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
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After a 5-year wait for a visa and permission to photograph the city, Leistner flew to Pyongyang in 2006, and Seoul in 2012 to follow. Having witnessed the construction of the Berlin Wall and glorious demolition altogether, it doesn’t come as a surprise that a German man has gone through the trouble to talk of the two Koreas. 

By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
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After a 5-year wait for a visa and permission to photograph the city, Leistner flew to Pyongyang in 2006, and Seoul in 2012 to follow. Having witnessed the construction of the Berlin Wall and glorious demolition altogether, it doesn’t come as a surprise that a German man has gone through the trouble to talk of the two Koreas. 

By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
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Placing pictures of the South next to the North, his photo series and book Korea–Korea at times shows modern cityscapes of Pyongyang alongside tourist-like women strolling through Insadong, their necks (and style) weighed down by DSLRS slung like tacky necklaces. So we can’t help but marvel at leather jacking-wearing women who own the streets of Pyongyang like the sidewalk is their catwalk. 

By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
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Placing pictures of the South next to the North, his photo series and book Korea–Korea at times shows modern cityscapes of Pyongyang alongside tourist-like women strolling through Insadong, their necks (and style) weighed down by DSLRS slung like tacky necklaces. So we can’t help but marvel at leather jacking-wearing women who own the streets of Pyongyang like the sidewalk is their catwalk. 

By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
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“Despite all the differences between North and South(…), they [both] like to take pictures and people smoke everywhere. In Seoul, they stroll through the city bellowing out songs. In Pyongyang, they don’t do that but they like to sing a lot.” As told by Leistner in an interview with Deutsche Welle, people in Pyongyang still scrub the streets by hand. And there are still crazy companies in Seoul that mark a 20,000 won fine for every employee that comes to work five minutes late. As put by this German man, there perhaps fewer differences than either side would have you believe.

By Dieter Leistner from Korea–Korea, Copyright Gestalten 2013
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“Despite all the differences between North and South(…), they [both] like to take pictures and people smoke everywhere. In Seoul, they stroll through the city bellowing out songs. In Pyongyang, they don’t do that but they like to sing a lot.” As told by Leistner in an interview with Deutsche Welle, people in Pyongyang still scrub the streets by hand. And there are still crazy companies in Seoul that mark a 20,000 won fine for every employee that comes to work five minutes late. As put by this German man, there perhaps fewer differences than either side would have you believe.

Published by Gestalten in May 2013, Korea–Korea not only compares the city life of Pyongyang and Seoul, but also includes personal diaries by a Korean-German woman and a German man who flies to Pyongyang for his second visit.

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