“yeo-bo-sae-yo” : “hello?”

THIS endearing image was taken by Irina Kalashnikova at Kim Jong-suk nursery, North Korea. There is something so charming about the little girl in her bright red skirt matching the bright red phone that she is talking on, especially when against such a neutral back drop. Having taken the photograph head on, therefore rendering the composition clean and uncomplicated, Kalashnikova has ensured that the viewer is drawn in by the details within: the secret smile of the woman behind the desk, the pedals upon which her feet are resting, the subtly patterned wallpaper, the delicate lace tablecloth amongst austere surroundings, and the sombre expressions of those framed high above.

But above all, my connection with this image arose from the intrigue of the situation. In this compact off-white cube two people co-exist; yet – at right angles with each other – they barely interact. What has triggered the woman’s stiffled smile? Could it be her joy at being caught on camera; or a reaction to the girl’s words? Is her conversation with a loved one; or one that’s make-believe? This brought a smile to my face as it reminded me of times when I was little, and so desperately wanted to use the telephone that my mum would connect me to the talking clock so that my gibberish had a sounding board.

I hope that this image is found as enchanting by others as it is by me. More pictures of the rarely seen North Korea, captured by Kalashnikova, can be found on the Guardian website. They are subtle, yet densely populated with fascinating insight into the country.


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