Daily Picture Show

The View From Inside North Korea

Frozen. Paranoid. Stark. Controlled. These are the kinds of adjectives used by journalists to describe the highly centralized communist state of North Korea.

  • Hide caption
    In the background of a window reflection is the Arch of Triumph in Pyongyang, North Korea. Built in the 1970s, it's taller than its Paris equivalent.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    North Korean children perform at a primary school in Pyongyang.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Puhung Subway station is also an atomic shelter.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Portraits of Kim Il Sung (left) and Kim Jong Il (center) are seen inside a government building.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A general view of a river in downtown Pyongyang.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    The May Day stadium, the biggest stadium in the world, accommodating 150,000 seated visitors.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    North Korean children leave the classroom after performing in a primary school.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A young policewoman directs traffic.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A bronze statue of Kim Il Sung, one of many around the country, is in the Yongwang subway station.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A man reads an official state newspaper on the platform of the Yongwang subway station.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Two North Korean waitresses open bottles of wine during an official reception in the capital, Pyongyang.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Waitresses distribute drinks and food.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A general view of an official reception.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    Commuters move by escalator at Puhung Subway station.
    Feng Li/Getty Images
  • Hide caption
    A picture of the Kim Il Sung flower is seen on the street.
    Feng Li/Getty Images

1 of 15

View slideshow i

Since the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948, the North Korean government has maintained a tight grip on all communications with the outside world. We only see what they want us to see.

NPR's Louisa Lim was allowed a rare five-day visit to the isolated nation in October 2009, and as she reported, her every movement was strictly controlled and monitored. She was not allowed to talk to ordinary North Koreans, use the currency or leave her hotel unaccompanied. She said she felt like she had stepped back in time.

In July 2011, Associate Press photographer David Guttenfelder and Seoul bureau chief Jean H. Lee reported for The New York Times that they were given "unprecedented access" beyond the dictated path. They were allowed to travel throughout the countryside accompanied by North Korean journalists as opposed to government minders. They reported catching glimpses of "candid moments [that] put a human face" on a country seen mostly in staged visits.

Above are Getty photographer Feng Li's images, from an April 2011 visit to North Korea's capital, Pyongyang. Though they show "daily life," one can't help but wonder what's not photographed.

There is an eerie similarity to many of the images photojournalists bring back from this enigmatic nation. There seems to be a surreal order and a visual symmetry to daily life, which appears highly orchestrated. Bursts of color appear in an otherwise monochromatic landscape. The images can be mesmerizing — and seem to prompt more questions than answers.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.