The community of North Korean defectors building new lives in suburban London.
1854 Media, publisher of British Journal of Photography, in collaboration with Panasonic LUMIX, has created LUMIX Stories for Change – an ongoing partnership that celebrates the power of photography to drive positive change. Three photographers were awarded a grant and LUMIX S Series kit to create a new body of work around the themes of Inclusion and Belonging.
The first project to be released is by award-winning photographer and filmmaker Catherine Hyland and focuses on the community of North Korean defectors in New Malden, south London – the largest community of defectors outside the Korean Peninsula.
With the help of the charity Connect: North Korea, and grant support from Panasonic LUMIX, Hyland was able to spend time with the community in New Malden over many months in 2019, eating with them, listening to their experiences and sharing many cultural rituals from traditional dances to Korean instrumental lessons, choir practices, K-pop events and even laughter therapy sessions.
For her LUMIX Stories for Change project, entitled ‘The Traces Left Behind’, Hyland has made portraits of members of this diverse, resilient community and has also shot footage in order to tell their stories. The project comprises a short film and an accompanying series of stills. Her new body of work, shown here for the first time, focuses on The Korean Senior Citizen Society, a volunteer-run group that operates from the back room of a charity shop in New Malden.
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The film documents the centre’s Senior Citizen Dance Troupe, which Hyland got to know and invited to perform in a specially designed set. For the studio shoot Hyland collaborated with creative director Gem Fletcher, set designer Danny Hyland (Catherine’s brother) and DOP Jorge Luis Dieguez. Subtly referencing the aesthetic of North Korea, the set, in combination with the traditional Korean costumes and dance routines, evokes an otherworldly sense of both belonging and loss.
Catherine Hyland shot the entire project, both stills and moving image, on the LUMIX S1R and S1 respectively. “This is the first major project that I have shot on mirrorless, and that was a revelation to me,” says Hyland. “Normally a lot of my budget is spent on having to hire something like a RED or an ARRI. I think that all of us, including the DOP, were surprised at the quality we could get out of the LUMIX S1 when shooting in the studio. It was quite enlightening to see that because obviously once an artist or creative is given a device like this, that means that they can do things on lower budgets. It means that more work can be created. You’re making a much more democratic space for people.”
The film (which can be seen above) provides an insight into the daily goings-on of The Korean Senior Citizen Society, which organises all kinds of activities. Every day members, who are aged between 55 and 94, cook for each other and eat together, the emphasis very much being on inclusivity and supporting one another. For the senior citizens who attend, the society is a lifeline as it provides a chance to share memories of home, traditional rituals, and hopes for the future in a safe, caring environment.
Hyland’s aim with the project is to challenge stereotypes and assumptions about North Korean people and the lives they lead. She wanted to look at traditional rituals and how they bind the North Koreans to home, and the optimism that exists within that.
For Hyland it was crucial that the project was collaborative. Working with a translator who was also able to introduce the artist to people and places she would not have otherwise known about, Hyland took time to build trust with members of the community by listening to their stories. Much of her time over the past year has been spent getting to know the different groups and learning about their experiences.
Hyland says: “I’ve really enjoyed being with the community. You spend so long wanting to make good work, but there’s a lot of narcissism involved in that – it’s about you and not about your subject – and with this I felt relaxed because it’s definitely about them. It’s a really nice way to exist and make work when it’s about something much bigger than yourself.”
“I wanted to make something about the community that was uplifting rather than something that’s negative and focuses on trauma: a love letter to London’s rich tapestry of immigrant communities.” (Catherine Hyland).
All images © Catherine Hyland 2019- The Traces Left Behind. LUMIX Stories for Change
About LUMIX Stories for Change
LUMIX Stories for Change is an ongoing collaboration between 1854 Media and Panasonic LUMIX. Photographers and filmmakers are provided with a creative grant and Panasonic LUMIX S Series kit* to create a new body of work exploring some of the most important issues of our time.
With categories loosely based on the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the first commissions in the LUMIX Stories for Change series will explore the themes of Inclusion and Belonging. The grantees are given the creative freedom to explore the subject matter in their own way. The resulting bodies of work, including stills, moving image and editorial, will be published by British Journal of Photography.
*Featuring Panasonic’s LUMIX full-frame mirrorless DC-S1R camera with a Panasonic LUMIX 24-105mm lens and the new full-frame mirrorless hybrid stills and video camera, the Panasonic LUMIX DC-S1, with a Panasonic LUMIX S PRO 50mm lens.
About Catherine Hyland
Catherine Hyland is an award-winning artist based in London. She graduated from Chelsea College of Art and Design with a first-class BA (Hons) degree in Fine Art and completed her master’s at the Royal College of Art. Her photography centres on people and their connection to the land they inhabit. Primarily landscape-based, Hyland’s work is rooted in notions of fabricated memory, grids, enclosures and national identity.
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