Long time friend and Melbourne based photographer Nic Ojae was recently abroad in Asia. On his trip he decided to visit one of the most remote places in the world, North Korea. Capturing some pretty amazing experiences and exposing a side of the world many haven't fully understood, Nic decided to release a book and exhibit his work in Melbourne at the H2H Store. We we're super intrigued with the story behind the images, so we couldn't help but ask Ojae all about his trip.
RW: How did you find yourself in North Korea?
Nic: My friend Hughie and I found ourselves on a 24-hour sleeper train from Beijing to the DPRK. After a few border checks and warm beers we arrived alongside the tour company who made it really easy to reach Pyongyang.
RW: You have pretty much travelled to most continents and have seen a bunch of amazing things. What made North Korea so memorable compared to the places you’ve been to before?
Nic: The most memorable feeling from the 10-day trip was the feeling of being controlled. While our itinerary took us all over the country a sense of limitation was attached to everything we did. We expected it to be like that but actually living it was quite strange. No internet access made life outside the country seem irrelevant.
RW: When you travel to countries that speak little to no English, how have you learnt to communicate with people and break the language barrier?
Nic: I spent quite a bit of time in South Korea after my time in North Korea. Learning the language in Seoulwas really difficult and I only memorised two or three words during my time in the North. Communicating with people was near impossible but in such an isolated place a smile goes a long way.
We didn’t have much interaction with everyday people as most people kept to themselves. There were instances where we were invited to sit-down at park BBQ’s or picnics by local strangers. These moments were the highlights of the trip and their home-brew soju (rice-wine) eventually made any language barrier insignificant.
RW: From your previous photo collections, I’ve found that a lot of your photos always compliment each other by the way they're shot and executed, regardless of them all being shot in various locations. Would you say that you have a specific subject that you are always drawn to?
Nic: From the onset there were one or two themes that I noticed regularly and I attempted to concentrate on them. It was a really interesting experience trying to interpret and capture what I saw. I didn’t have any expectations nor did I know if I would be allowed to photograph anything at all.
I think anyone’s eye or style naturally develops over time. It’s hard to pinpoint a subject when you have no idea what to expect, so that’s why it was quite challenging trying to establish cohesion through a series. This was especially made hard shooting analogue and not being able to see exposed images until reaching Seoul.
RW: When planning trips abroad do you go knowing that you want to shoot to exhibit or does it usually happen organically depending on what you capture?
Nic: I never go anywhere expecting to exhibit but I can’t help but go away with a keen eye to shoot. If I end up happy with the results then of course I’ll have an eagerness to show my work. I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to do with the content from North Korea but a small book and casual show seem appropriate.
RW: What’s next for you?
Nic: I spent quite some time away so it’s really nice to be back in Melbourne. Especially during summer with the gang.
RW: Where’s next for you?
Nic: I have nothing planned but trips always find a way of organising themselves.
RW: Any last words?
Nic: Thanks to Fotomaru in Seoul for the great work in the lab. Thanks to Tim at Thirds Fine Art for the printing expertise. Thanks to Won Kim for the Korean lessons and translation and a final thanks to Alini at Hand2Hand for hosting the show.