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June 2007

An exhibition of the work of Yannis Kontos, a winner last year at World Press Photo (WPP), is being held at the Frissiras Museum in Athens, Greece.

Girls carrying AK47 rifles, probably replicas, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kontos shot this from his hip.

Girls carrying AK47 rifles, probably replicas, in Pyongyang, North Korea. Kontos shot this from his hip.

Winner of 19 international awards, Kontos has worked with the French agencies SYGMA and GAMMA and is an associate of the American agency Polaris Images. In his frequent travels around the world - Iraq, Afghanistan, Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Turkey, Genoa, Pakistan, Lebanon, Albania, Mexico and Nepal - he has recorded the dramatic events and the developments that marked the contemporary history of these countries.

The show is split into two parts: North Korea: Red Utopia, is a world exclusive, and comprises around 50 photographs, many taken surreptitiously, from North Korea during trips in 2005 and 2006.

Kontos had previously tried and failed for three years to get into the country and eventually gained access after using false papers and posing as a tourist.

“All the cameras I used were Canon, but you are not allowed to take professional cameras into North Korea,” Kontos told CPN. “You are not allowed a laptop, lenses over 150mm or video cameras.”

He used the self-timer, sometimes taking a shot from a camera hung around his neck. At other times he captured images while taking a camera out of his bag.

“I was being watched all the time by three minders. You cannot hide yourself or do something off schedule,” he said.

 A boy holds a picture in Kosovo in 1999.

A boy holds a picture in Kosovo in 1999.

Kontos is now a ‘marked man’ and watched by North Korean agents, but he says he is unconcerned. “This is by far the best material that has come out of North Korea. In the past, people have been allowed to take pictures of ceremonies, [but with these images] you can get an idea about how people live, as well as some idea of what’s happening in the countryside.”

The other part of the exhibition is called A-pories. The images were taken all over the world from 1997 to the present day. The title comes from the ancient Greek, ‘no passage’, and means ‘the insurmountable’.

Co-curator Penelope Petsini said: “The word denotes a logical contradiction, a logical paradox. From the deserts of Afghanistan to the monumental squares of Pyongyang or the modern housing in Stratford, London, the world of Kontos is not characterised by logic or cohesion, it is not simple or stable; it is characterised equally by progress and regressions, by rises and falls.”

Click movie icon to start or stop the movie.


Click movie icon to start or stop the movie.

The exhibition also includes a series of diptychs on the Kulina psychiatric institution for children in Aleksinac, Serbia, and the WPP-winning work, Life as an Amputee, about the life of Abu Bakarr Kargbo, one of the thousands of amputees-victims of the civil war in Sierra Leone.

The show is sponsored by Canon and ATEbank, and runs until 13 May 2007. The two books that accompany the exhibitions (by Kastaniotis Editions in collaboration with the Frissiras Museum) are available in Greek and English.

Canon LFP 9000 printed all images in large format.