North Korea carefully guards its projected image of a flourishing nation-state. While the world sees through the paper-thin veil, much is unknown about the conditions within the country because of the strict limits on what media is allowed in and out of the country. Visiting photographers that break the rules have their photos deleted and are sometimes outright banned. Photographer Eric Lafforgue wanted to showcase the poverty he saw and in doing so, took many pictures that he was instructed to delete. Ultimately he was banned. But he managed to get his photographs out.
North Korea claims it has one of the most powerful and important armies in the world. However, much of the soldiers time is spent completing menial tasks.
Pyongyang is the showcase of the country, so North Korea works had to maintain the exteriors of the buildings in the city. The insides tell a different story.
These people are waiting for a chance to get a bus to work.
‘A rare example of an undisciplined kid in North Korea. The bus was driving in the small roads of Samijyon in the north, when this boy stood in the road’ said Lafforgue.
While the North Korea “Black Market” has been all but shutdown, the “Grey Market”, of which officials generally ignore, allows some to make a living.
There are many tired people on the sides of the roads, many of whom need to ride their bike for hours to get to work. Photos of them are forbidden.
Here a woman poses in front of a computer…that has no power.
The subway system in Pyongyang doubles as a bomb shelter.
These children are scared of escalators. They had never seen them before.
This picture was forbidden because the portrait was not yet completed. When Lafforgue took it, the entire group yelled at him.
Blackouts happen all of the time.
Pyongyang has two supermarkets with plenty of food and drink, but only the elite can shop there.
Pyongyang is so far behind the times that cars are just now becoming widespread. These kids are so used to playing int he empty street that they continue to act like the cars don’t exist.
The regime considers smiling in portraits to be disrespectful, especially when taken in front of images of Kim.
‘North Koreans are very paranoid. I was asked to delete the picture since the guides were certain I would have said those people were homeless – they were just resting’
Citizens are involved with projects that the regime believed were viewed as positive. They are now aware that the rest of the world knows that they are actually forced labor.
This picture, which depicts a man gathering grass for food, makes the guide furious.
‘In Kaesong near the demilitarised zone, you are locked in an hotel complex made of old houses. The guides say it’s the same outside the hotel. No, it’s not.’
‘This man was taking a rest by the sea in Chilbo. My guide asked me to delete this for fear that Western media would say this man was dead. He was alive” says Lafforgue.
Lafforgue’s camera was confiscated for the duration of the bus trip to Chongjin. He states the extreme famine he saw on that journey made it clear why.
This man fishes from a floating tire. Fishing is often the only way to get fresh food in the countryside.
‘When visiting the dolphinarium in Pyongyang, you are allowed to photograph the animals, but not the soldiers who make up 99 per cent of the crowd!’ says Lafforgue.
Photos of the army are not allowed at all. Especially when you catch them relaxing.
Soldiers in the demilitarized zones are allowed to be photographed, but they don’t appreciate you coming too close!
A common sight in North Korea and specifically with military vehicles, it’s obvious why the government does not want this photo to be seen.
Showing a soldier resting is a major offense. ‘This picture really contributed to me getting banned from the country,’ says Lafforgue.
Photographs of people that are not well dressed is also forbidden, such as this man.
Malnutrition among soldiers and civilians was common.
‘When times are hard (as they usually are here), children can be found working for the farming collectives,’ explains Lafforgue.
‘The officials hate it when you take this kind of picture. Even when I explained that poverty exists everywhere, they still forbade me from taking them’