Daily Picture Show

Behind The Curtain Of Communism

  • An attendant stands near the tracks as a metro train arrives in Pyongyang, North Korea, August 2007.
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    An attendant stands near the tracks as a metro train arrives in Pyongyang, North Korea, August 2007.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • Hmong villagers break down in tears at their hidden village in Laos, November 2007. The villagers are regular targets of the Lao People's Army for their roles in collaborating with the CIA during the Vietnam War. Their families have had limited contact with Westerners since 1975.
    Hide caption
    Hmong villagers break down in tears at their hidden village in Laos, November 2007. The villagers are regular targets of the Lao People's Army for their roles in collaborating with the CIA during the Vietnam War. Their families have had limited contact with Westerners since 1975.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • Children clean up after lunch at a boarding school and orphanage in Chisinau, Moldova, May 2009. The school has more than 500 children living on campus.
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    Children clean up after lunch at a boarding school and orphanage in Chisinau, Moldova, May 2009. The school has more than 500 children living on campus.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • A Maoist rebel soldier in a Britney Spears T-shirt stands with soldiers of the People's Liberation Army during a drill in a schoolyard in the village of Gairigaon, Nepal, February 2005.
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    A Maoist rebel soldier in a Britney Spears T-shirt stands with soldiers of the People's Liberation Army during a drill in a schoolyard in the village of Gairigaon, Nepal, February 2005.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • A worker inspects labels on beer bottles as they move down the production line at a brewery in Nanjie village, Henan province, China, November 2009. Nanjie is a collective village run along Maoist lines. Residents have socialist benefits like free education and health care, but there is no private property.
    Hide caption
    A worker inspects labels on beer bottles as they move down the production line at a brewery in Nanjie village, Henan province, China, November 2009. Nanjie is a collective village run along Maoist lines. Residents have socialist benefits like free education and health care, but there is no private property.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • A North Korean woman loads a pistol for firing practice in Pyongyang, North Korea, August 2007.
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    A North Korean woman loads a pistol for firing practice in Pyongyang, North Korea, August 2007.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • An all-girls group of Young Communist League members walks past a statue of Chairman Mao Zedong in Yan'an, China, November 2009. Yan'an is promoted as the "Revolutionary Holy Land" and offers a number of museums, monuments and other "Red Tourism" sites supported by the Chinese government.
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    An all-girls group of Young Communist League members walks past a statue of Chairman Mao Zedong in Yan'an, China, November 2009. Yan'an is promoted as the "Revolutionary Holy Land" and offers a number of museums, monuments and other "Red Tourism" sites supported by the Chinese government.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • A neighborhood built along railroad tracks is seen in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2010.
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    A neighborhood built along railroad tracks is seen in Hanoi, Vietnam, February 2010.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • A truck driver repairs a broken Soviet truck along the Ho Chi Minh Highway inside the former demilitarized zone in Vietnam, February 2010.
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    A truck driver repairs a broken Soviet truck along the Ho Chi Minh Highway inside the former demilitarized zone in Vietnam, February 2010.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • 1980's Soviet architecture is evident in Vientiane, Laos, March 2011.
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    1980's Soviet architecture is evident in Vientiane, Laos, March 2011.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • Dinner in a farmhouse in Chobruchi, Moldova, April 2009.
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    Dinner in a farmhouse in Chobruchi, Moldova, April 2009.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • A bakery in Havana, Cuba, August 2006.
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    A bakery in Havana, Cuba, August 2006.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • A teenage boy prepares to throw a freshly caught fish along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, October 2008.
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    A teenage boy prepares to throw a freshly caught fish along the Malecon in Havana, Cuba, October 2008.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII
  • Nabin Pun, a Maoist rebel soldier of the People's Liberation Army, raises the communist flag from a tree above the village of Rukumkot, Nepal, February 2005.
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    Nabin Pun, a Maoist rebel soldier of the People's Liberation Army, raises the communist flag from a tree above the village of Rukumkot, Nepal, February 2005.
    Courtesy of Tomas van Houtryve/VII

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I was a few minutes late calling Tomas van Houtryve for our scheduled interview because I couldn't put his book down. I was reading about how he entered North Korea with an illegal American passport and had to concoct an elaborate lie to avoid being detained. I was on the edge of my seat.

That story is just one example of how far van Houtryve (rhymes with "retrieve") journeyed for his new book, Behind the Curtains of 21st Century Communism.

The project explores modern life in the seven countries that still practice communism — Nepal, China, North Korea, Laos, Vietnam, Moldova and Cuba — and it shows how some societies have embraced change, while others remain isolated in their Cold War past.

Van Houtryve was willing to go places other journalists wouldn't dare. On top of the North Korean ruse, he also tracked Maoist rebels in Nepal and trekked deep into the Laotian jungle with the fear of becoming lost — or shot.

Hmong villagers break down in tears at their hidden village in Laos on Nov. 27, 2007. The villagers are regular targets of the Lao People's Army for their roles in collaborating with the CIA during the Vietnam War. Their families have had limited contact with Westerners since 1975. i i

hide captionHmong villagers break down in tears at their hidden village in Laos on Nov. 27, 2007. The villagers are regular targets of the Lao People's Army for their roles in collaborating with the CIA during the Vietnam War. Their families have had limited contact with Westerners since 1975.

Tomas van Houtryve/VII
Hmong villagers break down in tears at their hidden village in Laos on Nov. 27, 2007. The villagers are regular targets of the Lao People's Army for their roles in collaborating with the CIA during the Vietnam War. Their families have had limited contact with Westerners since 1975.

Hmong villagers break down in tears at their hidden village in Laos on Nov. 27, 2007. The villagers are regular targets of the Lao People's Army for their roles in collaborating with the CIA during the Vietnam War. Their families have had limited contact with Westerners since 1975.

Tomas van Houtryve/VII

That trip produced one of his most compelling images in the book — a group of Hmong villagers who have been in hiding since the Vietnam War. They assisted the CIA in the 1970s and are still targeted by the Lao People's Army.

"They hide in the jungle, live off subsistence, can't plant crops, and eat roots and squirrels," he said. "I've never seen such ragged worn-down people who looked like they were hunted. They were totally desperate."

For this body of work, van Houtryve was recently awarded a "World Understanding Award" in the Pictures of the Year International contest.

"As a photographer, I don't expect I can take a picture and instantly change the world," he says, "but I think we should make every attempt to bear witness so things don't get worse."

Van Houtryve's photos are on exhibit at the VII Gallery in Brooklyn, N.Y., through Aug. 31.

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