French-Polish photography Tim Franco has spent a decade examining the urban and social transformations taking place across Asia – from the burgeoning alternative music scenes and LGBT communities in Shanghai, to the rapid urbanization of central China and Azerbaijan, and the impacts on those left in its wake. He documents significant cultural trends, but through the eyes of individuals, understanding that personal stories are often the most engaging medium for probing complex societal events.
For his most recent series he ventured further east to South Korea, in a bid to better understand its sibling to the north; the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or more commonly North Korea. This is a country rarely out of the news, and yet one shrouded in mystery, intrigue, and perhaps substantial hyperbole. True to his modus-operandi, Franco’s way to probe deeper towards the truth, is through people. He met with North Korean defectors – those who have escaped across the borders to China and South Korea – interviewing them, and asking them to sit for portraits.
His chosen title for the series is ‘Unperson’; a reference to Geoge Orwell’s seminal dystopian novel 1984, and a term used to describe someone whose records have been erased. Like those unfortunate ‘unpersons’ in 1984, Franco’s subjects have left a life that they can never return to, their histories essentially expunged. They are not supposed to exist, and yet through hardship, determination and some luck they live on in a new world. The idea is aptly symbolized in the innovative analog method he uses for their portraits – through a series of complex trial-and-error chemical processes, the defectors’ portraits are revealed from the negatives of Polaroid film, in a manner in which they were never supposed to exist.
Here, Franco shares some more information on the project and his rationale, along with a selection of defector portraits and stories. These are abridged versions, and you can read them in full at www.timfranco.com