NPR logo The View From Inside North Korea

North Korea In Transition

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.

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.

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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.