The entire country of North Korea is shrouded in both literal and figurative darkness, making it one of the most mysterious places in the world. Not many outsiders have a chance to visit North Korea -in fact, it’s nearly impossible for American to venture in without a pricey and heavily regulated visa.
One photographer, Eric Lafforgue managed to visit the world’s most peculiar and talked-about nation six times, and the photos he took there are truly compelling. For those that make it inside North Korea’s borders, photography is highly-restricted and frowned upon. Using memory cards that he had to smuggle out of the country illegally, Lafforgue was able to share North Korea with the world in a way it has never been seen before. See the photos, along with Lafforgue’s descriptions, below.
‘This soldier was sleeping in a field. This picture really contributed to me getting banned from the country.’
A woman standing in the middle of a crowd of soldiers. This picture is not supposed to be taken as officials do not allow army pictures.
‘The North Korean army is said to be one of the most important in the world. But if you travel there, you’ll often see soldiers doing menial tasks like helping farmers.’
‘Outside urban areas, such a scene is fairly common.’
‘Pyongyang’s subway system is the deepest in the world as it doubles as a bomb shelter. Someone saw me taking this picture and told me to delete it since it included the tunnel.’
‘The North Korean officials hate when you take this kind of picture. Even when I explain that poverty exists all around the world, in my own country as well, they forbid me from taking pictures of the poor.’
‘When times are hard (as they usually are here), kids can be found working for the farming collectives.’
‘For a long time, bans against black market sales have been strictly enforced. Grey market vendors are more common. They earn a little money selling cigarettes or sweets.’
‘On the day of the Kimjongilia festival, thousands of North Koreans must queue up to visit various monuments.’
‘Pyongyang is supposed to be the showcase of North Korea, so building exteriors are carefully maintained. When you get a rare chance to look inside, the bleak truth becomes apparent.’
‘As cars have become more widespread in Pyongyang, the peasants are still getting accustomed to seeing them. Kids play in the middle of the main avenues just like before when there were no cars in sight.’
‘One night, on the way back to the hotel my bus had to take an alternate route due to street closures. As we passed by old buildings, the guides asked me not to shoot with flash. The official reason was to avoid scaring people.’
‘A visit to a rural home. Those houses and the families who live there are carefully selected by the government. But sometimes, a detail like a bathroom used as a cistern shows that times are hard.’
‘Public transportation connecting the main towns is nearly non-existent. Citizens need permits to go from one place to another. On the highways, you can spot soldiers hitchhiking.’
‘Showing poverty is forbidden, but displaying wealth is also a big taboo in North Korea. In a park on a Sunday afternoon, I found this car that belongs to one of Pyongyang’s elite. The owners were having a BBQ.’
‘It is forbidden to take pictures of soldiers relaxing.’
‘It is also forbidden to photograph malnutrition.’
‘You can find all kinds of food and drink in Pyongyang’s two supermarkets where things are sold in both euros and wins. They even have Evian water. Only the elite can shop there.’
‘It’s not a circus, they are workers in a country with low safety standards.’
‘When visiting the delphinium in Pyongyang, you can photograph the animals, but not the soldiers who make up 99 per cent of the crowd.’
‘Paranoia is strong in North Korean minds. I took this picture at a funfair of a tired mother and child resting on a bench. I was asked to delete the picture since the guides were certain I would have said those people were homeless.’
‘This is never supposed to happen: a broom standing on the base of Kim Il Sung’s statue in Mansudae, in Pyongyang.’
‘This kind of picture is widespread in the west. The caption often explains that North Koreans eat grass from the park. The guides get furious if you take it.’
‘When you visit families, the guides love it if you take pics to show the world that kids have computers. But when they see there is no electricity, then they ask you to delete.’
‘It is absolutely forbidden to take a picture of the Kim statues from the back. It is considered very rude.’
‘Queuing is a national sport for North Koreans.’ This is the line for the bus.
This is what happens when the bus breaks down.
‘In the art centre of Pyongyang, we experienced a power outage, a daily event the North Koreans hate to show. When it happens, they tell you it’s because of the American embargo.’