Unperson – Portraits of North Korean Defectors

Tim Franco, South Korea

In George Orwell’s 1984, an unperson is someone who has been vaporized, whose record has been erased. Similarly, the North Korean defectors that Tim Franco chose to portray have decided to disappear, fleeing sometimes for ideological reasons and often out of despair. The road to South Korea is dangerous and can take years, across the many different borders with Mongolia, Laos, Thailand and China. The travels of the ones that do flee are filled with the fear of being arrested and sent back to labour camps. Having arrived in South Korea, they often struggle to find a new identity; lost between their North Korean past and South Korean future.

To reflect this incredible transition, Tim Franco used an analogue material that is not supposed to exist: the negative of a polaroid reveals an image through a series of chemical purifications, resulting often in something uncertain, dirty and imperfect. Each portrait goes along with the story of how and why the subjects came to this radical decision. In order to retrace their trails, Franco travelled to the crossing points, aiming to capture the diversity of landscapes that is the background of North Korean defection.

Discover more: Shortlist 2021