Red Ink was commissioned by The New Yorker for the article The Risk of Nuclear War with North Korea by Evan Osnos, September 18 issue, 2017 and supported by the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. Max Pinckers is affiliated as a researcher to KASK / School of Arts of University College Ghent. Margins of Excess is part of his research project financed by the Arts Research Fund of University College Ghent, 2015-2021
In August 2017, at the height of tensions and the looming possibility of a nuclear war between the U.S. and North Korea, Max Pinckers traveled to Pyongyang on an assignment for The New Yorker together with his assistant Victoria Gonzalez-Figueras and American journalist Evan Osnos. During the four-day trip, they were strictly monitored and guided by government officials at all times, with every location diligently prepared before their arrival.
Knowing that it would be impossible to reveal the reality behind the regime’s facade, Pinckers applied an aesthetic that refers to state propaganda and advertising, by using bold artificial lighting. This subversive approach reveals that these images are conscious of their own deceptive nature – lies that make us understand the truth – that we are looking at a manufactured version of reality according to the Kim regime.
In the resulting photographs, his lighting is complimentary yet forensic, scrutinizing the sheen of the propagandistic settings he visited during a trip that was heightened by the looming possibility of nuclear war. In a photograph taken at Pyongyang Orphans’ Secondary School, uniformed students sit in individual cubicles, like office workers, while a washed-out shade of pink pervades the classroom. The students look directly into the camera, save for a boy who has his eyes downturned. When I asked Pinckers about moments like these, where cracks in the North Koreans’ polished façade begin to show, he told me, “There’s a subversiveness that creeps into this kind of constructed situation. You can never really put a finger on it. You’re never really sure of anything.”
– José Ginarte, A Photographer's Search for Cracks in North Korea's Propaganda Machine, The New Yorker, 9 September 2017
Winner of the Leica Oskar Barnack Award 2018
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