41 uncensored instagrams from North Korea by David Guttenfelder

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David Guttenfelder is the Associated Press Chief Photographer for Asia, almost a legend in photojournalism. He’s been traveling the world for the most part of his life documenting events like the genocide in Rwanda, the Israeli Palestinian conflict, three different Olympic games and many other historical events. He is a seven-time World Press Award winner and has gained various other awards during his brilliant career.

He’s recently been documenting North Korea and since their authorities loosened a bit their restrict policies about photojournalism he’s been one of the first photographers allowed to bring a smartphone inside the country. A 3G network is now available for visitors, so he’s been able to take pictures with his camera phone on the streets of Pyongyang like he could have done in any other part of the world and for the first time he had the chance to upload them on Instagram while still in the country, marking a milestone in the history of photojournalism.

The event is momentous and thanks to David we can now watch for the first time ever some uncensored real life moments directly from North Korea. In the following gallery you will see our favorites among the pictures he took there.

We are sure you’ll love David’s work and if you’re interested take a look at his impressive website with more work from North Korea and many other countries: davidguttenfelder.com.

Here is the link to his Instagram account: dguttenfelder.

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North Korean lady and yet to be completed 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
North Korean lady and yet to be completed 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang.


Kids rollerblading. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
Kids rollerblading.


Kids playing with David's camera. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
Kids playing with David’s camera.


North Korean soldier reading at the Grand People's Study House. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
North Korean soldier reading at the Grand People’s Study House.


Pyongyang. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder


Pyongyang city center. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
Pyongyang city center.


Pastel painted buildings in Pyongyang. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
Pastel painted buildings in Pyongyang.


Saturn shaped planetarium named Three Revolution Exhibition Hall. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
Saturn shaped planetarium named Three Revolution Exhibition Hall.


View from The Grand People's Study House. Notice the two huge mosaics of two Kim's in the middle of the photo. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
View from The Grand People’s Study House. Notice the two huge mosaics of two Kim’s in the middle of the photo.


A view of Pyongyang. Photo credits: David Guttenfelder
A view of Pyongyang.


Leave a Reply
    • I rarely -to say never- see someone smiling in the streets here in Europe, and I think it is the same in the States.
      So your comment -clearly aimed to find something terrible and oppressive where there isn’t- is pointless.

      • I live in the US and I feel the same. However, it didn’t look like anyone in the wedding picture or the folk dancing picture was smiling either. These are two (supposedly) happy things that people typically smile when getting photographed in.

        • Those are two happy things that people typically smile when getting photographed in, IN THE US. I’ve seen many a wedding photo in hispanic cultures where nobody was smiling. Not because they weren’t happy, but because there just wasn’t a sense of “saying cheese” when taking a photograph.

          • the photographer can also choose to not show the images of people smiling… as a political statement. these images capture a moment of many moments…and specific landscapes and relationships all seen through one person from an outsider perspective.

            We very rarely see positive images of NKorea coming out of west…so its difficult to go to this country not wanting to perpetuate the same accepted images.

            Like the typical images of Africa, being portrayed as backward continent…warr ridden…poverty stricken…people dying of HIV/Aids. But we never see that its the biggest continent,,that the world gets most of its resources from gold copper diamonds..oil..organic foods..coffee…not that poor a continent after all?!!!

          • Also we can’t compare cultures. Everyone knows that East Asia cultures are full of the self-discipline and self-control concepts, which might probably be another reason for the lack of any feeling exibition in public AND in photo

          • I totally agree with you y, except that Africa is not the biggest continent at all, either if you take a look on a demographic scale or at the geographical surfaces…Asia’s clearly the biggest continent in any shape or form.

            Meanwhile, it is absolutely true that Africa’s probably the wealthiest continent on earth…we got to get rid of te aggressive capitalism that is going out around the world these days…

          • To QC: There’s no such continent Asia. It is a landmass and one of two parts of Eurasia that is a biggest continent.

        • This is actually not uncommon in a lot of the world. For example in Russia, where I am from, people didn’t usually smile in photos. It wasn’t something you added as part of your pose. I don’t know if it might be different now, though.

        • I taught in S. Korea for a while and, oddly enough, a lot of Koreans didn’t feel comfortable smiling in pictures. Most wedding photos that I saw were of groups of people in very fancy outfits not smiling.

        • I have nothing but disdain for the leaders and the regime that they have created in NK. Having said that, I think the smiling thing is very cultural, and has little to do with level of happiness in people’s daily/personal lives. In many countries, especially the poor ones, taking a picture is seen as a big deal, and a formal one, too, and that almost requires somewhat somber and serious approach. That might explain no smiles in posed wedding photos, and some others.

          • Agreed, even on some pictures from holoucoust concentration camps prisoners are smiling and there it has definitely nothing to do with happines of any kind at that moment and is very sad indeed.

      • I’m coming from Germany and really: People barely ever smile in the streets. Every time it happens it seems like a little revolution.. Was actually somehow depressing after returning from Taiwan and especially the Phillippines were people are laughing and smiling constantly..

        So.. the smiling argument doesnt really work. One could point out though that the people are probably depressed for different reasons.

        • Right the no smiling is cultural.

          So are the exhausted drawn faces, especially the childrens. Right? That is cultural too? You can feel the tension through the screen, plain as day.

          There are plenty of beautiful pictures of people smiling regardless of culture world wide.

          Respecting other cultures is one thing but this is deliberately forcing yourself not to judge human faces. Its ok, we’re all human. Judge. Get moved to action.

          Political statement to deliberately show frowning people? I don’t think you had to look hard around North Korea. Read up on anyone who has been there.

          • Most people who go to NK have predisposition to hate on the place and to assume people living there must be miserable. Comparatively, if you go out on a limb and look at any of the recent Detroit documentaries, you’d think the USA is a failed state and everyone is sad.

            It is the photographer that outlines an idea and a feel to his/her pictures, regardless of camera quality. Taking my home town for example, in a recent Concordia University project, communications student created short video takes outlining different aspects of the city. Each video ended up representing the city of Montreal in one or another light. The point is that you can’t base yourself on videos or pictures.


            Here’s an example of one of the videos



      • “So your comment -clearly aimed to find something terrible and oppressive where there isn’t- is pointless.”

        I dunno, V., the North Korean government just executed 80 people for thinking freely, I’d say there’s a right good bit of oppression.

        • yeah and what is it, half their people are in concentration camps? And I think there are entire generations of families there…

          • North Korea has fewer people locked up than the US currently does, by quite a bit. It is no where near half of the population.

      • hey maybe not the adults, but point a camera to children and they will immediately start smiling. The photo with the students…couldn’t show more sadness and anxiety, even if you’d ask them…

        • Agree. I live in the Bay Area and people smile a lot here.

          Just take the wedding dance photo. No smiles on a wedding dance photo ?

          Now try to find a wedding dance photo that show some expression of happiness from some other country. It took me about 0.2s according to my interwebzapp.

      • V, you’re an uninformed idiot if you think there is no oppression and nothing terrible going on in North Korea. Either that or you’re a communist who thinks its perfectly acceptable to oppress people who don’t align with your party values.

        • Seriously? “you’re a communist” – that’s what you’ve got? Do yourself a favor and educate yourself a bit – start by looking up the definition of communism and that of totalitarian. It’s helpful when hurling invectives that you choose wisely, otherwise we stereotype you as an ignorant reactionary who gets all their “news” from The Blaze or Faux.

      • Come to my town… Smiles a plenty. Same in South Louisiana where I once lived. Nobody has to make anything up about this country…. their reality throughout the country confirms a limited existence for the common people there…

      • Sorry guys, i’m living in Canada, and if someone from another country come here and take pictures of my beautiful city, i’ll smile and be proud of where i come from. Actually i do it all the time ahah .

    • a lot of them… in 10 photo u can see people smiling.

      when u loock with prejudice, it´s impossible.

      it´s the fisrt time e see photos like this one, and it seems they live not so bad like i always read in mainstream, and other, press.

      • Those featured in these photographs are very privileged people able to live in the capital city of Pyongyang. If photo journalists were allowed access to other cities, rural areas or any of the number of prison camps holding tens of thousands of North Korean men, women and children, you would see something very different.

        • Agreed with Peter. The North Korean government has let reporters into Pyongyang before. As someone above said, it looks like Eastern Europe in the 80’s, but that’s not so bad. The repression is subtle–it shows up in the contents of school lessons and the things people are afraid to say. But reports from outside the capital (which are scarcer) consistently say that Pyongyang has the best living conditions in North Korea. The worst hunger and poverty are outside of Pyongyang, and especially in the prison camps.

          The photos are still fascinating.

          • Also, for the richest country in the world, we aren’t doing so well at feeding our own children. Imagine how the govt of the DPRK could use these statistics and put their spin on them. They could come up with a plausible sounding argument that capitaism doesn’t work and the US can’t ever feed their hungry children. Something to think about.


          • You mean the way the U.S. industrial incarceration system produces mass profits for the wealthy via a corrupt police and judicial system? Or do you mean the mass amounts of poverty in extra urban and rural neighborhoods, where jobs are non-existent and food aid was just cut to the bare bones to be sure the lazy suffer their self-inflicted pains? Or do you mean in states like Texas and Kansas where they are changing textbooks to fit religious doctrine?

        • I’m against the government of the DPRK, but am a supporter of its people. When I visited, I found things to be very different than I imagined.

          To put things in perspective, most think that Americans are the most free in the world. Think again. We incarcerate the highest percentage of our citizens. Way more than Russia and China. http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/3745291/

          • When USA became the richest country in the world???!!! The richest country in the world this year is Qatar, then it’s Luxembourg and Singapore. USA might be the biggest economy, the most dominant culture and many others, but let’s stay honest – it is not the richest one.

            Pictures are amazing. They show things that weren’t shown on any other reports from North Korea, eg. the taxi.

          • @Steve And that means Jack Diddly Squat. Percentage of incarceration in and of itself has nothing to do with the amount of freedom around. In an extreme case, it could literally just be a reflection of the amount of crime being committed and caught while the actual freedoms and liberties remain exactly the same.

            @Natalia Qatar is just the strongest by GDP, but it is faaar from the richest. The reason why its’ GDP is so massive is because it is based on (let’s be blunt here) slave labor or something close to it, and there are more non-citizens than there are citizens. So that is a massive, massive skewing factor, since they don’t get counted when calculating GDP.


            Hardly. If anything, the USA has been able to penetrate even further than it could in the ’50’s and 60’s thanks to the collapse of the Soviet Union.

      • Well, you can’t just throw the Brits in there. They are the second most depressed people on the planet.. 😀

        Good thing Monty Python is getting back together !

    • When a total stranger who looks very different approaches you with a camera, you don’t typically smile and say “cheese” 🙂

    • I have been to Pyongyang, and believe me, people do smile there. Their lives are difficult, as are the lives of many millions of people around the world. These people are not robots, not automatons, not propaganda machines–they are real people. Whenever I asked to take their picture, they would smile broadly. To me, they seemed shy, curious and actually quite warm.

      • When I went back to visit family in Russia after the USSR fell apart the most “in-your-face” change was ads everywhere! Now I don’t notice it but yea, not ads… just like the USSR used to be. Looks really weird now.

    • There are a few ads. I saw three billboards (I think there is a photo of one above) for their car company and you see a few around for the flower expo, symphonies, and other events like that. It was actually nice in a way not to have advertising everywhere you look like in most other places. I think the lack of it makes westerners and most people from other countries think things look too plain. It really made me think that in some ways they live in more simple times. It reminded me of old photos from the early 1900s in the US when there wasn’t a label or logo on everything you own. That’s changing in the DPRK though.

      • Steve almost reminds me of the standard “noble savage” contrarian. Not comparing DPRK to tribal groups, but your attitude is almost the same. No, they’re not just “simpler times” they have considerably lower standard of living. And quit with the quid pro quoque logical fallacy, it gets old. So the only country that’s capable of pointing out the fact that DPRK has only recently been downgraded from “Famine stricken ” to “chronically malnourished” are countries that have 0 children with limited food access? Sure the US has issues making food cheap enough that everyone can afford it but in the DPRK there is a physical shortage of food. The children that go hungry in their country are on an order of magnitude larger by percentage than any other western country.

        Someone already pointed this out as well but the US GDP per capita is #10, not #1. Seems like a basic thing to understand. Oh and we’re not free because… wait for it… our incarceration rate is too high? This logic wouldn’t even stand in a community college. When you commit a crime society determines that you are going to have your civil liberties restricted. You go through a judge and a jury and you have an appeal process. How that makes the other 99.9% of society less free please explain that. In North Korea you go to a Total Control Zone when you commit a crime. Btw a Total Control Zone is a prison where not only the offender goes but 3 generations of their family goes. Where you get a rice ration that gets premanently reduced with each prison infraction until you die. But you’re right, you know, because the US has high incarceration rates (because we jail non violent criminals) I guess we can’t say that TCZs are bad.

        But thank you Steve for reminding us that because they don’t have billboards, North Korea really is a much freer place. Let forget the chronic lack of food, mandatory career assignments, mandatory college assignments, intercity travel being allowed only by a small percentage of the population, living in a 3 tiered caste system (read about it), summarily executions for petty crimes, and the complete lack of free speech, religion, and expression.

        • Okay, let’s tone it down a bit here. You’re jumping to some major conclusions yourself, my friend.
          Everything you’ve said is anecdotal, first of all. Great job for someone who starts off his argument with misspelled citations of logical fallacies. Proofread if you’re going to come across as intellectual.
          The points you raise about the state of North Korea are extremely valid, but your method of discourse is clearly questionable. Simply providing a statement of contradiction is enough to support your argument. You don’t have to label people as apologists by putting words in their mouth, or try to bring anybody down. Get a hold of yourself.

          • Steve’s post is factually sound and can be verified by a few Google searches in an incognito window (so searches aren’t tailored to your preferences) in a Google chrome browser. I don’t think his post should be dismissed because it isn’t directed at the the most apologetic of the many apologists on this forum. NOT everything he said was an anecdote. And anecdotes don’t necessarily discredit an argument. The anecdotes SOME of his info comes from are not isolated incidents, so they hold water. You’ve engaged in ad hominem and the “fallacy fallacy”. If anything should be criticized, it’s your unwarranted criticism.

  1. “Uncensored” implies there are photos that Lil Kim DOESN’T want the world to see. But you knew that right, David? Groan. What a joke.

    • uncensored [ʌnˈsɛnsəd]
      (of a publication, film, letter, etc.) not having been banned or edited

      Or it might mean that the North Korean regime found them acceptable for viewing by their citizens. Considering we don’t know for sure you should stop acting like such an ***.

  2. All looks pretty tame, I think that while he may not have “censored” these photos, theres many more he could have taken and uploaded but felt at risk doing so.

    • No. He wanted to show that North Koreans are human. As human as you and I. Not like the media that makes us want to hate them.

      • The people of North Korea have absolutely no freedom. They cannot even leave their own country, and if they try, are locked up in prison camps in terrible conditions. If someone successfully escapes, their family will probably be sent to a prison camp.

        What I’m trying to say is that the ‘media’ doesn’t want us to hate North Korean people. Those outside of NK need to be made aware of what the Kim family has done to the citizens of North Korea.

        • They cannot leave even their own city, traveling is allowed only with permission(the same as in communistic russia).
          Capital is another world, made mostly for communists.
          The real north korea is outside of capital, in the country.
          By the way, all communistic cities looked like this (besides old centers) . The same streets now look much worse , ads are everywhere, no care for sidewalks, green, microarchitecture. … during communism was no street crime at all, i leaved my bike over night on the street aand noone stole it. Today vanishes everything since a lot of homeless steal everything made from metal

      • I wouldn’t say that anything in the media is trying to make anyone hate North Korean citizens… Accurate portrayals of the human rights abuses in North Korea make me hate the ruling party and feel sorry for the oppressed people of North Korea.

  3. Honestly this just looks like a cleaner and more organised version of Ekaterinburg, Russia and is quite impressive. However this is just the capital and how many regular people did he really photograph? The photos are interesting but I don’t think they’re any different from all the other pictures we’ve seen come out of North Korea and I doubt that many (if any) would have been censored by the government.

    • The doubt that there are no ‘secret photos’ and all the horrible tales about North Korea are just propaganda never passed through your mind, did it?

      • maybe some things are over hyped but the amount of aid that goes into North Korea and the testimonies of people who have escaped means it is impossible to deny that the country has serious problems.

      • you also have to realise that as a foreigner, david was probably only shown the top 0.01% of the population. the kids living in pyongyang are the wealthiest of the bunch, generally children of high ranking officials. it’d be naive to believe that the rest of north korea looked like that. starving children and oppressed rights are not simply western propaganda, they hold some truth. vice has a good documentary on visiting north korea if anyone’s interested.

      • For shame; apparently now we have straw commentators on behalf of the NorK regime? That’s like getting telemarketers from Antarctica. Have the Chinese been loaning out some of their patsies?

        No, dear sir. The horrible tales about North Korea are not just propaganda; we know this all too well. The fact that you would be stupid enough to claim that it could be when the entire country does not even show up in the night sky via satellite proves that you don’t have a mind.

        May God bless and preserve you, and until then may you do some damned research!

  4. It looks as if there are no cars, no people in the streets, no -anything? I feel like the artist has selected scenes and shots that present only a very narrow glimpse of the larger whole.

  5. Uncensored?
    Just do a flickr search and enjoy thousands of similar, and a lot older, photos from the same places.
    Actually I was there myself in 2010 taking photos.

    • Heating… have a look in Britain … central london In milbank resitents in cold flats with no means to pay bils… nothing new year after year, and thats prime area of london…

      • Dont believe you. Because I have seen in TV in 2 days ago that people in the Ukraine put down statue of Lenin! After 20 years of democracy! Funny. Where are statues of Rooswelt, Obama, Bush, Herman van Rompuy, Wall street? 🙂

  6. I don’t know much about photography, or even instagram, but it seems like he used some kind of blue/grey filter on these to accentuate any preexisting drabness. If he did, it’s a bit of a shame. It’d be interesting to see North Korea as it is in it’s own natural light, rather than forcing preconceived notions onto it.

  7. Please, these aren’t uncensored at all. Most of these are photos of the privileged minorities and many of the shots are staged by the government.

  8. I love the way they ATTEMPTED to sugarcoat PyeongYang for the outside world to see.
    when really, its a s**thole of a place to live.
    I feel really bad for the citizens of NK.
    what did they do wrong to deserve such treatment…

  9. For everyone saying “it’s not so bad in DPRK”, think again. This city is only about a quarter of the population of DPRK. These are the elites. The rest of the country is in constant poverty and hunger. Let’s not forget the prison camps.

    Also, can we talk about the shop named “Shop”. Like it’s the only shop there. I wouldn’t be surprised.

  10. None of these pictures NEEDS to be censored. Every one of them was taken in tourist areas – locations set up to make North Korea look prosperous and happy. the rollerblading kids? come on. look on flickr and you’ll see a dozen photos of exactly the same things. this person has seen nothing that every visitor to north korea sees. don’t be fooled by the sensationalist article description.

  11. All these photos are censored, showing plazas and play gardens that would be every think ok but the true is people, children there are suffering and starving. That NC communist regime control every movements above of the people’s mind, e.g. it is not allowed to close doors in order to be controlled every time, the people, according to the communist, offered they salary to the communist party and in return they got food tickets which is not enough to die. This communist regime restrict people to travel to the countryside or other cities, therefore, they can not meet they relatives, for example if retired you will lost the right to stay any longer in the capital, therefore, you will be moved to the countryside, despite you have family or not, consequently you lost touch forever in your family. After all these some Americans and west-Europeans find it fun to travel there, pay a lots of money to be entered, therefore support the regime and see suffering people as it was in a museum or a fantasy film. I hope they will be imprisoned and get a close experience what does it means communism if they wanted so hardly. So this so called journalist did nothing extraordinary but his photos enough to mislead the world.

    • I was nodding my head about everything you wrote until I got to the point about wanting the tourists to be imprisoned. That kind of comment totally kills the credibility of all of the things you mentioned before, don’t you think? I think people need to know the truth and it is silly to think you can get the whole truth with a few instagram photos. If you want to make comments on the state of living in NK, please do your research before making judgments based on a few snapshots taken in a controlled area of the most privileged areas of the country. And please, do not support the regime by travelling there if it is purely because you find it fascinating. What you see in these pictures may be fascinating, but what you cannot see anywhere on the net is not describable with that simple adjective. So please.

      • chris, seemingly you don’t know what does it means communism, it is not a fun, a joke, a circus or a zoo where some stupid American go to be entertained. Firstly, is dangerous for any foreigners, secondly, you support with that money you pay to be entered that insane regime, thirdly, as a tourist you will not see the true, you can see only what they let you to see, so don’t be ridiculous to say “I think people need to know the truth”. So the questions is why this journalist try to mislead the readers, showing the fake, well-dressed face of the NC regime and exposed himself as a hero?
        You know who are the heroes, the members of the relief organizations, not you, not this fake journalist, and mainly not those Americans who go there as would go a zoo and than can posted some photos on facebook, that how much cool and brave guy were their.
        So, all of them should be imprisoned there to see the real face of that insane and communist regime, and could learn there are some thing in this life that is not fun, joke and not amusements. Lastly, and again, this journalist did nothing special, took photos of what was allowed to him. Shame on him.

  12. What do any of you really know about North Korea? The government there most probably is oppressive, restricting, etc. Conditions probably are bad. But if you are truly passionate about the well being of north korean citizens, you should figure out for yourself. With an open mind, discover how much of this negative depiction is actually propagated by western propaganda and how much of it is true.

    It will reveal much more shocking truths about the motivations of the photographers/authors of posts like this than the messages they try to convey.

    • Have you seen the nighttime satellite pictures of North and South Korea from space. They’re very easy to find on the internet. What they show is that South Korea is well lighted at night just like all the capitalist countries. North Korea is mostly as dark as the darkest wasteland, except for where the powerful people live. This is true of all the strictly communist countries. If you think capitalism is bad, you should really think about what the alternatives would be like.

    • Mrksist, you commented literally right above this…
      “Gitmo o bay plus America spying and your spiralling mort-gage… concentration cump is your house my dear frend…”

      methinks you are likely on north korea’s govt-operated PR staff. of course nobody has total 100% personal freedom, but most people in the western world have a whole lot more of it than people in north korea. most people in the eastern world also have a whole lot more personal freedom than north koreans. just about everybody everywhere gets more freedom than north koreans. and although the expenses involved can certainly make a home sometimes feel like a prison, i also think it’s certainly nicer to be in any home than in an actual prison camp.

  13. I can’t believe such a big chunk of these comments are an argument on whether or not people are smiling in NK. Anyway, I’m fascinated by the pictures, but I’m also aware that this is the most privileged place in this very oppressed country. Wish we could do more to help the overwhelming amount of people there that are suffering.

  14. Nice pictures, and by the way, great camera the kid is playing with. I read that tourist cant introduce so long lenses, just simple cameras, i guess things are changing or was a special visit?

  15. It’s pretty hard to try and make a definitive statement from pictures alone, though these are great. Kudos to the photojournalist. Footage is pretty important, too. Check out Vice sometime. I know they have a youtube channel and they were able to get into North Korea and sneak out footage to make a documentary. Here’s a link, but I’m not sure if it works in this message board http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=24R8JObNNQ4. They spent time in places that were designated inside and outside of Pyongyang. They also were part of the group that went with Dennis Rodman and the Globe Trotters. That footage may not be on their youtube page but I know there’s a documentary that you can find on HBO GO. I believe it’s called Vice: The Hermit Kingdom.

    But I also suggest a film called Kimjongilia, in which former citizens of the country tell their experiences and reasons why they chose to escape. And I’m deliberately using the word escape, not leave. Leave suggests more of a legal choice. The stories are a bit harrowing. I know for sure the film is on Netflix, but aside from that I don’t know where you can view it. After watching a few documentaries of Vice’s 2 trips, their one trip to a NK working camp in Russia and the sad and brave mix of stories that is Kimjongilia I’m convinced that this is one of the scariest countries on Earth. I’m not using that term lightly either. I know there’s in injustices and whatnot in every country, nothing is perfect, but North Korea’s government seems truly scary in it’s ultra repressive setup.

  16. It’s still cool to see pictures of a different country even if the pictures look the same on different websites. Nk played a very smart move by allowing us to take pictures of the capital. They can prove to us that “they aren’t so bad after all”, but honestly how was this not staged. He got to take pictures of a wedding, kids roller blading, people working, people studying, of the buildings and parks- all things that stage a normal country. Who truly knows what it’s like over there beyond the capital. They don’t let us past the capital for a reason… Sure there is some propaganda going on, but how do not assume the worst when they are being so sly and secretive about their country? If they have nothing to hide they should allow us in with open arms and take a road trip throughout the country. Or is it none of our business? Who cares they are still weird and keep us wanting to know more.

  17. As a south korean myself, and as someone who got to know NK matters in further details, i can say that these pictures are not a clear representation of how NK really is. What is really unique and significant about NK is not its situation of poverty ( if for poverty alone, it would make it similar to any other poverty sticken nations in the world), but is is their Joo Che ideology. The dictatorship of kim jung eun (and his two fathers) and its rule is something very different and bizzare in comparison to democracy or even communism. Their ruling system almost resembles a religious system, some form of cult, but in a political form that paralyzes people’s way of thinking and living. What goes on behind these awesome looking pictures are horrifying reality of concentration camps, refugees eacaping to china and crossing to get to south korea via other southeast asia routes. I’ve seen documentaries and also came across much resource from China border refugees. Sure. Some of the testimonies of people may be exaggeration and we need to discern and we sure need to be aware of the play of medias and the way it intentionally portrays certain views, but we also need to face some concrete facts about unimaginable situations of NK. It is just my little hope that more people will to come to know the dire situation of NK because it personally breaks my heart and shocks me at the face of injustice.

  18. They have to inform the viewers the plot of Madagascar first ? And why does Pyongyang bears an eerie resemblance to Chernobyl ? lol

  19. This is just propaganda itself.
    Perfectly posed photos, a biased viewpoint.
    Is it really showing everyday life???

    What are the photos/photographer actually trying to say?

    Beautifully shot but given this opportunity, i feel his agenda (if he has one) is self publicising.

  20. It does not look like Eastern Europe to me, but it is almost a copy of a typical Russian city with a huge hint of late 80’s – no advertising, no small shops, few ppl on streets, no modern cars, homogeneous society. The way they dress is also very Russian in a way – similar winter jackets and overall outfit, especially for women (more common for province though).

  21. To put in simple terms – I hope people realize that this is the most affluent/richest part of the nation. This does NOT represent North Korea in any way other than the presence of propaganda everywhere. Obviously, they would not let a foreign photographer take images of the actual living situations of North Koreans.
    Most North Koreans from other parts of the country are not permitted in Pyung Yang unless they can afford to bribe the officials or of a higher status.

    This title is very misleading – what a disappointing post.

  22. It is ironic how the many of those who comment about this post only demonstrate the deep level of their own brainwashing as a result of the relentless propaganda that they suffer from, without even realizing it.

    Common comments about the apparent lack of heating: This was common in South Korea when I was there in the early 90’s in office buildings. The local elites or foreigners would work in rooms with portable gas heaters. The rooms in which the domestic workers toiled remained unheated. I seem to recall the washrooms were not heated.

    The lack of smiling comments ignore those that are indeed smiling in the photos, in particular the older war veterans who are posing for the picture, and the youth. I agree it is common in photos of Korean people, here or there, that they maintain serious faces in portraits.

    Just enjoy the photos as a glimpse into the lives of other people and a place with whom most of you are generally completely unfamiliar. Is it disorienting to see a place that isn’t littered with McDonalds and Coca-Cola signs?

  23. I recommend Vice’s episode on HBO that documents a trip here. Overall feeling is that the leaders set up a very restricted, almost ‘Truman Show’ type experience for journalists coming into the country.

  24. I’m not sure I understand all the no-smiling comments since if you look closely there ARE quite a number of smiles – wedding dance photo has smiling people, the war veterans are clearly smiling, guy on the bus is smiling, etc etc you get my point. Ear-to-ear grinning isn’t the only way to smile.

    While I feel sad that there is so much persecution going on of various communities, I don’t think it’s fair to assume that all North Koreans constantly live in fear and depression (even less fair to assume so just because the people in these pictures don’t look ecstatic)

  25. World’s largest prison… Where are the cars? Where are customers in all these shops, photo labs? Students in their jackets and hats INSIDE the classroom? Most of this is just “for show” so selected “turists” can see that N.Korea isn’t that bad…

  26. Smiles and debates about smiles aside, 41 Instagrams doesn’t seem to be a sample large enough to know how things really are in North Korea. Perhaps, we can all guess how it really is there based on our respective ideologies. Then, we can read another Buzzfeed list.


  27. 1. Uncensored because there was nothing to censor.
    2. Computer picture is perfect example. No keyboards since no one knows how to use them.
    3. Marriage picture is revealing though as you see the skinny people in front of the fatty Kims.
    4.These are no pictures from N.Korea, but only from Pyong Yang, which is in no way anything near the rest of the country looks like. Only the ‘elite’ lives there.
    5. Finally, vehicles you see are indeed contemporaries of the Soviet Union. Pure mechanics, only rust can kill it, and still it will work.

  28. I don’t really know what to make out of these photographs. Not only does the photographer show what he wants to show, but we can say that the author is dead. Also, we see what we want to see based on what we look for. We can interpret the facial expressions, infrastructure, subjects, compositions, etc. a myriad of ways depending on what we think it should mean. Therefore, we, who are at our desks, beds, laptops and keyboards, aren’t really at a position to speculate on anything.

    Perhaps the best thing these set of photographs has done for me, as someone who’s not from N. Korea or anywhere affiliated with the country, is a reflection of what I wanted to see in these photographs. What I look for reflects who I am as a person, and it may say something about my own society, country, and ideology. I appreciate this uncommon peek into this almost taboo country. It’s like looking at a body of dark waters– while I cannot understand what it may contain, it’s a perfect opportunity to reflect.

  29. Visiting North Korea raises many dilemmas for people from an ethical perspective. No one knows exactly where the money goes, so there are always fears that one’s hard earned dollars might in some way be subsidizing North Korea’s nuclear weapons or rocket programs. While this could be true, its important to keep perspective in mind.

    Last year North Korea’s GDP was (conservatively) estimated to be approx $40 billion. When considering that about 4,000 Westerners go per year, the revenue generated by tourist visits comes to about $400,000 per year – or 0.001% of the sum total of the DPRK GDP. These figures are so small that frankly it is absurd to think that touring North Korea will in any way impact what the North Korean government chooses to spend its money on. Of that $400,000 from western tourists, the majority goes to hotel upkeep, fuel for vans, and greater support of the tourist infrastructure – so at worst helping the economy!

    Maybe hard for some to comprehend but there is a North Korea beyond the headlines of empty streets and hungry looking people frequently see in the media. They do have a normal daily life, factories, schools. Ugliness in North Korea is one-side of their life. Perhaps in the spirit of intelligence and love it is time to declaw these not insignificant images of this country and recognize the beauty of the people.

  30. Unsmiling or not, what struck me is that they look hungry. I mean real hunger, a gnawing hunger that is constantly in the background of one’s thoughts. Especially in the pic of the students in the concert hall. Okay, maybe hungry and bored in that one.

  31. Go to the south side of chicago and take pictures and post instagrams of all the destruction there….I am sure you get a few smiles here and there.

  32. 1- they are starvinq. period.
    2. read number one aqain.
    2- ‘clean streets’ : yes, anythinq like ‘litterinq’ could send you to the qulaq.
    3- ‘no smilinq’: yes, socializinq with the wronq person could send you to the qulaq.

    >>>>> Every move they make, every word they speak, is with one qoal in mind:
    stay alive / avoid the qulaq (work camps).<<<<<<

  33. I am really surprised about how much people discuss about smiling in photos and have no idea about the horrible daily life of North Koreans. Living in that country is beyond comprehension, has no connection whatsoever with the normal life of Europeans or Americans. It is a living hell. Smiling is of no importance, says nothing about how they feel. And I am just afraid to think about how they felt while being photographed by a foreigner who is free to leave the country and return to a comfortable and normal life.
    What Romanians lived in the 70s and 80s during Ceausescu’s regime was somehow in the same category but not even close to what’s going on now in North Korea. This is probably what Romania would have been in 2010-2020 if the communist regime was still there. I feel appalled by their fate and see no hope for the future.

  34. hard to believe that the majority of these photos are staged to create the look of a normal functioning society. these people believe the world began when the oldest of the Kims was born (not long ago). those people on computers must struggle as there is no internet in Nth Korea, it is all an illusion, tey celebrate in huge masses the launching of a THIRD nuclear test, a THIRD!!. They live in poverty. Kim Jong Il is an evil psycotic man who is destined to bring war to the world and needs to be taken out as soon as possible.

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