As the lead photographer for the Associated Press in North Korea, Singaporean photojournalist Wong Maye-E captures more than meets the eye.
BY PAMELA HO
Published on 16 August 2016
BY PAMELA HO
“THERE ARE LOTS OF RESTRICTIONS IN NORTH KOREA. While it’s true that we’re constantly accompanied by government guides, I try to use these opportunities to see beyond the control and propaganda. It’s a challenge but there are opportunities to capture life beyond what’s presented to us,” reveals Wong Maye-E, the Associated Press (AP)’s lead photographer in North Korea since 2014 — a position she took over from David Guttenfelder, an eight-time World Press Photo award winner.
Wong had the honour of working with Guttenfelder on her first North Korea assignment in 2013, covering the 60th anniversary of the Korean War armistice. “He introduced me to the basics of working in North Korea. It’s always interesting to watch another photographer operate the field,” recounts the Singaporean photojournalist. She joined AP (the world’s oldest and largest newsgathering organisation) as a staff photographer in 2006, after being a fixed freelancer for them since 2003 and a journalist with The Straits Times, where she met photographer Ed Wray, who was instrumental in getting her through AP’s door.
A graduate of Temasek Polytechnic’s School of Visual Communications, Wong says a career in photojournalism was a natural trajectory. “I liked the idea of storytelling through photographs. I also liked being involved with current affairs,” she reflects. “In many ways, the training I got from art school helped develop my artistic sensibilities with regard to taking pictures.”
Based in Singapore, Wong tries to visit Pyongyang once a month. A selection of over 70 photographs from her body of work will be the focus of her first solo exhibition, North of the DMZ, which opens in September. “There will be pictures of the official rallies and parades held in North Korea, but also images of the more unscripted moments of everyday life that I managed to capture during these visits and during the times I convinced my guide to take me to certain places.”
While Wong has covered everything from political protests in Thailand and Hong Kong to the garment factory collapse in Dhaka and the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, sports reportage holds a special place in her heart. She has covered the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, and is in Brazil to cover the 2016 Rio Olympics.
“I used to be a national sailor,” she explains. “Because of that, I can appreciate sports and all it encompasses. So I try to capture sports in a different way, to show the quieter moments and emotions amidst all the action.”