Taking Photographs in North Korea

Tatlow, Dermot
September 2004
Nieman Reports;Fall2004, Vol. 58 Issue 3, p109
This article presents a revelation by a photojournalist about his experiences in North Korea. Getting in was only half the battle. Producing images to shed light on how people live in this most secluded of nations was much harder. The North Koreans are zealous in making sure that foreign journalists see only what they are meant to see and nothing more. Arriving at the airport, I was subjected to a thorough search and forced to yield my cell phone and other communications equipment I had. Being in North Korea is to experience an overwhelming feeling of emptiness. The cities seem absent of inhabitants. During the day, people walk along highways devoid of cars. Despite living in high-rise buildings, women carry buckets to an outside spring to collect water. Either the water pumps were out of order or their pipes had frozen. There seemed to be virtually no electricity. The tourist hotel where we stayed had its own generator, but with little fuel available it stopped running at 10 o'clock that night. It was a constant struggle to survive the endless alcohol-laden toasts and then draw to a close these multi-course banquets that are held for foreign guests. But that was my goal, since I needed to find ways to get our hosts out of the restaurant so I could quietly snap a few more photos. On just a few occasions, I succeeded.


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