Wanted: Photos & Video of AP’s Kim Il Sung Glorification Exhibit in New York (Updated with Location, Hours, Photos)

Yonhap is reporting that the Kim Il Sung commemorative photo exhibit to be co-sponsored by the Associated Press and the official North Korean “news” service, will open next Thursday:

A group of North Korean journalists left for the United States Saturday to attend a photo exhibition set to open next week, marking the centenary of the birth of the North’s late founding leader, Kim Il-sung, the country’s media said. The North’s delegation, led by Kim Chang-gwang, vice director of the Korean Central News Agency, will attend the opening ceremony of the photo exhibition scheduled for March 15, the news agency said in a report.

The photo exhibition, to be jointly organized with The Associated Press, is scheduled to run until April 13, two days before the late leader’s 100th birthday, the American news agency said in its Web site. [Yonhap]

What’s odd about this is the AP’s extraordinary secrecy about this whole thing. I’ve scoured the internet for a time and place of the exhibit and found nothing. I’ve also sent the AP’s press contacts repeated e-mails asking for confirmation or denial of the story, and copies of their agreements with the North Korean government. The AP has ignored my messages, so I’ll print them here for you to read.

To: “jstokes@AP.org” ; “pcolford@AP.org” Sent: Sunday, February 26, 2012 12:49 PM
Subject: Memos & agreements with N. Korea, establishing P’yang bureau

Gentlemen, I operate a weblog on North Korean affairs with a concentration on human rights issues (http://freekorea.us). I’m interested in whether AP’s memorandum of understanding allowing for the establishment of the Pyongyang bureau is publicly available, and if so, whether you’d mind sharing a copy with me. I’d also be interested in any subscriber agreements or other agreements you have with the North Korean government or the Korean Central News Agency. Thank you in advance for your assistance.

To: “jstokes@AP.org” ; “pcolford@AP.org” Sent: Tuesday, March 6, 2012 7:37 PM
Subject: Re: Memos & agreements with N. Korea, establishing P’yang bureau

Hello, as a follow-up, North Korea’s KCNA news agency is reporting that it and the AP are co-sponsoring an art exhibition in New York “mark the significant Day of the Sun, the birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung.” According to the report, the exhibit will depict “photos of the great men of Mt. Paektu who made immortal contributions to the prosperity of the country, its people’s happiness, the independent and peaceful reunification of the country and the accomplishment of the cause of global independence.” Any truth to that? Also, any answer on whether I can see your MOU’s with KCNA and the North Korean government? Thanks.

I’ve received no response to either message.

Funny thing is, if this were the typical situation of a news organization trying to expose government malfeasance, the news organization could file a FOIA request, get an expedited response, and have its fees waived. But what happens when a news organization agrees, even tacitly, to disseminate that government’s propaganda and its frauds on a global scale? As it turns out, your only recourse is … write a blog post! So just to be clear, the world’s largest wire service has just signed a secret agreement, quite possibly selling out its objectivity to the world’s most oppressive totalitarian state in the process, and unless we can somehow draw attention to that, said news organization can do that with complete impunity. No law provides any recourse to even expose that to the light of day. Perhaps there are good, sound First Amendment reasons for that, but as powerful as the press is, shouldn’t it at least have some accountability to citizens? I live in a city where civil servants live in terror of the press. To most of them, the press is an unelected, unaccountable, omnipotent fourth branch of the government that rules the other three. Every day, journalists write stories about private citizens that expose private details of their lives and cause them terrible anguish. But citizens are almost powerless against the press. It’s very sobering.

Transparency about the things that matter to the public should be for everyone. I want the world to see how the AP has sold out its objectivity to the world’s worst tyranny. I want to put those photos online for everyone to see, and I need your help to do that. And if you’re one of the many journalists who reads this blog, or one of those journalists of better conscience who has communicated with me privately about how inappropriate the AP’s dealings with North Korea have been, then this appeal is especially for you. Right now, it’s the AP’s ethics that are hurting your profession, but what will hurt it even more is that the best of you fall silent out of professional courtesy. A profession finding itself in that situation has a duty to police itself.


Here’s a link to the web page of the gallery hosting the exhibit, along with the hours. It’s at the 8th Floor Gallery, 17 West 17th Street, New York, NY. Directions here. Thanks to Spelunker for the clue that led me to this:

An historic exhibition featuring photos of The Associated Press and the Korean Central News Agency will offer a rare glimpse into a nation long shrouded from view.

The exhibition will open on the 100th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the founder of the communist state, and follows AP’s recent opening of a bureau in Pyongyang, North Korea, the first to be established by a western news organization.

Unique access to the KCNA photo archive will offer images illuminating the history of the DPRK, including visits by dignitaries over the years, landscapes, culture and everyday life.

In addition, AP images, both historic and contemporary, will show the country through the eyes of non-Korean photojournalists, including AP Chief Asia Photographer David Guttenfelder, who has made numerous reporting trips to North Korea since 2010. (emphasis mine)

How absolutely shameless. The gallery actually posted some of the photos to be exhibited online. I’ve posted a selection of these below the fold to illustrate my point, which is that only a few of the photographs have any significant artistic merit. Most are merely images of North Korean generals, dictators, or propaganda dioramas. The photo of the policewoman leading the children across the street looks staged, and staged to symbolize how the North Korean regime sees itself, and how it demands to be seen — not just by its own subjects, but now, by the AP’s readership. So taking the purpose of the exhibit at its word, are these images really representative of “the history of the DPRK,” or “everyday life?” Judge for yourself. The first three photos are from the AP, the remaining five are from KCNA.









The people who have been advising us to appease North Korea for the last 20 years keep telling us that if we’d only “engage” with North Korea enough, North Korea would change. Those people and their money haven’t changed North Korea, but North Korea always changes them.

If you go to the exhibit, please be polite, civil, and discreet, and help me tell the rest of the story.


  1. Joshua, the First Amendment guarantees freedom of the press, but doesn’t impose responsibility on the press. Would you like to suggest a new amendment?


  2. No, but a voluntary, industry-wide code of ethics and transparency sure seems necessary. One of the odd things I just learned is that that journalism has no unitary code of ethics, like the legal and medical professions have. The film industry learned to police itself and rate its own films to forestall the need for government meddling, so why not the press? There might even be an impartial board of ombudsmen, like the NYT’s Public Editor, who could issue non-binding opinions about a story’s balance or credibility, or questions of journalistic ethics.


  3. I posted the link to the New York photo exhibition in my previous reply to your original post about the “joint exercise” by AP and KCNA. It’s at a private gallery called “The 8th Floor”, which can only be visited by appointment. The gallery seems to specialize in communist propaganda, as they recently concluded similar exhibitions for China and Cuba.

    I’m scouring KCNA for the original post naming the North Korean delegation who will travel to the opening of the exhibition March 17. Yonhap cited KCNA, but it’s not among the current March 9 English headlines. I can try checking the Japanese version.

    [Thank you, Spelunker — great work! – Joshua]


  4. Greg Andrews, I believe you have selected the photograph which won the special “KCNA” award:(Kids Coveting Nutritional Assistance)


  5. When the “joint exercise” by AP and KCNA was originally published on the 8th Floor website, the New York gallery clearly indicated that there would be no opening ceremony on March 15. Now the gallery has had to change the information on their website with the announcement that a delegation of KCNA worms led by Kim Chang-gwang is coming to the Big Apple. New York LiNK nomads should mark their calendars accordingly.

    On the same day (March 10) KCNA announces on their website that their plane is headed for New York, it denounces South Korean “hack media” for engaging in a “smear campaign”. They specifically call out Chosun Ilbo, Dong-A Ilbo, KBS, Yonhap News, and “the Strategic Information On North Korea Service Centre run by human scum”.

    (By the way, I tried to copy the funny bits from KCNA’s article but when pasting them here I got Yonhap’s article instead!)

    KCNA apparently does not appreciate “groundless stories” about jasmine revolutions in North Korea and Chinese troops entering Pyongyang.

    On the same day KCNA departs for its New York Kim Il Sung birthday bash, they also bash the USA for engaging in “cunning” psychological warfare against North Korea! Don’t worry though, the DPRK army is prepared to deal with it: “It is as foolhardy as trying to sweep the sea with broom…”


  6. Please delete the sentence in parentheses in my yet unpublished reply post that says: (By the way, I tried to copy funny bits from KCNA’S website but got Yonhap pasted instead.)

    It’s simply not possible to copy and paste from KCNA’S website, or link to specific articles. Sorry!


  7. There is a long and thoroughly dishonorable tradition of totalitarian governments using the free press to advance their ends. The Nazis took journalists to labor camps that were made to look humane by the standards of the day, showing musicians playing great music and artists engaging in their work. At the height of Stalin’s starvation of millions of Ukranians the NY Times’s man in Moscow , Walter Duranty, steadfastly denied there was any famine happening. Most Americans don’t know the extent of the evils of the North Korean regime. They think its funny or ridiculous, based on things like the “Team America” movie in which Kim Jong Il sings, “I’m So Lonely.” Exhibitions like this only distort the picture more. When will AP have an exhibition showing the few people who survived the NK death camps and lived to tell of their experience? I think we’ll be waiting a long time.

    The AP will insist that they are merely “reporting” on what happens in North Korea, but when you act as a mouthpiece for a government controlled entity you aren’t reporting – you’re publicizing.

    Not that it would make any difference, but someone should document this and send the materials to the Columbia Journalism Review or a publication which reports on the press.

    From Wikipedia…

    Walter Duranty (1884 – October 3, 1957) was a controversial Liverpool-born British-American journalist who served as the Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times from 1922 through 1936. For a series of stories written in 1931 on the Soviet Union Duranty won a Pulitzer Prize. Duranty has been criticized for his denial of widespread famine, most particularly the Ukraine mass starvation in the 1930s. Many years later there were calls to revoke his Pulitzer, with even the Times acknowledging that his articles constituted “some of the worst reporting to appear in this newspaper.”


  8. I know several people in the AP Washington Bureau. None of them knows anything about this. Why has it not occurred to you that Yonhap might be wrong? The AP, which is owned by its members, would never participate in something like this.


  9. Then maybe you can ask your friends to respond to my repeated inquiries. If the story is wrong, then a lot of people are laboring under a terrible misunderstanding, including me, Yonhap, KCNA, whoever wrote this AP press release, the art gallery that put up this exhibition web page displaying some of the photographs, and whoever at the AP gave this quote to Foreign Policy:

    According to KCNA, the exhibit is to mark the “significant Day of the Sun, the birth anniversary of President Kim Il Sung.” The photo exhibit will display great men “who made immortal contributions” to North Korea’s prosperity and the people’s happiness, as well as “photos on various fields of the DPRK including politics, economy and culture.” The KCNA article quotes AP’s director of photography, Santiago Lyon, saying that the exhibit will provide an opportunity to compare the different styles of photography between the news agencies. AP confirmed Lyon’s quote is accurate, adding that each side would select its own images and that “KCNA’s characterization of the exhibit is entirely their own.”

    Please tell your friends at the AP that my comments are open and I welcome them to set the record straight.


  10. As you will see in this NY Times piece, AP photos are included in the exhibition. That does not mean the AP “sponsored” it, as you alleged.


  11. “Sponsor” can mean different things, but the AP’s press release calls it a “joint photo exhibition.” But you do raise a very interesting question — who paid to rent the gallery? Maybe your AP friends know that answer, since they aren’t talking to me.


  12. According to KCNA, the exhibition’s opening ceremony was a success and Kathleen Carroll is a “He”. It’s among the March 16 KCNA headlines, which can’t be hyperlinked, but do you notice something fishy in the opening paragraph…:

    “A photo exhibition co-sponsored by the Korean Central News Agency and the Associated Press of the U.S. opened with due ceremony at the Rubin Art Museum on March 15 in New York to mark the centenary of birth of President Kim Il Sung.”

    The Rubin Art Museum? I thought the KCNA-AP joint exercise was in the 8th Floor Gallery at 17 West 17th Street. The Rubin is down the street at a different address (150 W. 17th St). Hmmmm….

    “Donald Rubin, president of the Rubin Foundation, made a congratulatory speech at the ceremony. Expressing hope that the exhibition would be the first step towards cultural and political reconciliation, he prayed for the reconciliation between the two governments of the DPRK and the U.S.”
    A-so! A-men?

    “Present at the opening ceremony were the KCNA delegation led by First Vice-Director General Kim Chang Gwang and officials of the AP including Senior Vice President Kathleen Carroll and Vice President John Daniszewski, personages of various social standings of the U.S. and those concerned of the museum, New York citizens and members of the DPRK mission at the UN in New York.”
    No South Korean lawmakers? LiNK nomads? Members of any press EXCEPT Associated Press?

    “The joint photo exhibition which opened under a MoU signed between the two news agencies in June last year will remain open till April 13.”
    Uh… when is that Kim Il Sung birthday satellite missile scheduled to launch again?


  13. A scathing obituary of Kim Jong-il was published on the day his death was announced by Human Rights Watch:


    Guess who is on the Board of Directors of Human Rights Watch? (“No, Spelunker, don’t do it!”)


    Shelley F. Rubin
    The Rubin Museum of Art

    BAM! GOTCHA! I wonder if she was present for the opening ceremony reception, … or did she suddenly obtain a ticket for the Pittsburgh Penguins-New York Rangers game at Madison Square Garden?