The harsh reality of north Korea-This article is the first part of two-part series featuring illegal photographs captured by two brave travelers, Michal Huniewicz and Eric Lafforgue who risked their lives to shoot these images to let the world peek into life of North Koreans.

The Democratic People’s Republic Of Korea

Lately, North Korea has been trending in all the news channels. Just weeks ago, President Trump and North Korea’s dictator, Kim Jong Un exchanged fiery remarks. But with the historic summit in Singapore, people across the globe see positivity emanating from both the leaders. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un signed a document that Mr. Trump described as “important” and “comprehensive”. Under the US-North Korea 2018 agreement, North Korea has to give up all the illegal programs on nuclear weapons. With this agreement, we can take a sigh of relief as the chances of nuclear warfare will be unlikely provided Kim Jong Un keeps up with disarmament.

Little is known about this small nation. Wedged between China and South Korea, the two prosperous countries, North Koreans live in poverty and oppressive terror of the Dictator’s regime. In this country, one either has to support the tyranny or else be labelled as a traitor and tried most brutally. Kim Jong Un belongs to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, a false play of words. It is illegal to document anything that goes against the Dictator’s regime. However, few audacious photographers managed to smuggle out pictures from North Korea to let people see the harsh conditions that the people suffer on a daily basis.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Photos By Michal Huniewicz

Michal Huniewicz has taken photographs in North Korea and featured them in his albums Road to North Koreawhich documents his journey in the country, and Ostensibly Ordinary: Pyongyang which records the life in the capital city Pyongyang.

Most of the photographs that Michal Huniewicz has taken in North Korea are illegal as Kim’s government strictly forbids any action that may harm his reputation. However, the photographer risked his life so that we get a glimpse of life inside North Korea.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Have a look into Michal’s Journey in North Korea:

1. First Glimpse, Sinuiju.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

This is the first picture that Huniewicz captured inside North Korea. The buildings can be seen designed in a regimented style. Huniewicz took this picture from his train, and illegal act, which he learned later. He was fortunate enough because no one caught him doing so. Otherwise, his journey would have come to a stop even before it had begun.

While entering into North Korea, Huniewicz said, “It felt like landing on another planet, like an Oriental version of Eastern Europe”.


2. Dignity.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Huniewicz took this photograph of an officer, an act that could have landed him in prison had the officer not been polite. “The man has some genuine dignity,” Huniewicz wrote.


3. Declarations.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Entering North Korea involves filing a lot of paperwork at various points. These declarations are often lengthy and threatening.


4. Passports Confiscated.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Once at the hotel, the tour guides confiscated Huniewicz’s and his fellow tour members’ passports.

As soon as Huniewicz checked into the hotel, his tour guides confiscated his and his fellow tour members’ passports. “Our North Korean tour guide said, `You no longer have your passports with you so, you will not be allowed to walk on your own. And if you happen to get injured in an accident, no one will know you.” recounts Huniewicz.


5. Nervous Waitresses.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Huniewicz felt an unease while having meals. He said that the waitresses serving him often seemed little agitated.


6. The Fifth Floor Mystery.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Huniewicz observed that there was no elevator button for the fifth floor in the hotels of Yanggakdo Island. Many believe that the fifth floor is kept for monitoring hotel rooms via video taps. Maybe this is just a rumor, but there is certainly something uncanny about it.


7. Architecture.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Huniewicz finds socialist architecture as brutal and oppressive for people.

Huniewicz recalls that most of the buildings in North Korea look like prisons. In fact, he is right because the North Koreans don’t have much freedom. People in this country all always monitored and any act that the regime feels uncomforting will land a person in trouble. Arts, TV and books, all are censored as per the Dictator’s interests.


8. Yalu River.

River Yalu borders North Korea and China. The staggering difference between the wealth of the two nations can be seen in the photograph. On the Chinese side, people live in lavish buildings and on the North Korean side, people have barely enough to survive. The worst thing is that the regime doesn’t let its people know how miserable their conditions are when compared to other neighboring nations.


9. Workers On The Bridge.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

This is a powerful picture of workers carrying an object across a bridge. Even the poorest of the workers are guided in a militarised way.


10. Double Trouble.

It is illegal to take pictures from a train as well as of soldiers. It is no doubt that Huniewicz calls this photo ”doubly illegal”.


11. The Capital City.

This picture is of Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea. Huniewicz says that this is one of the most flattering photos of the city.


12. City Architecture.

This is a picture that Huniewicz took from his hotel room. One the right, there is a notorious hotel, Ryugyong, known as the Hotel of Doom. The construction of this building, which started in 1987, was never completed because North Korea doesn’t have the money to finish it. On the left, there is Koryo Hotel which recently caught fire. Chinese people are welcome in this nation as it is the only ally that North Korea has. This hotel is in the centre of the city and mostly occupied by the Chinese guests.

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This is Yanggarkdo Hotel, where Huniewicz stayed. Most western visitors are put up in this hotel when staying in Pyongyang. The hotel guests cannot leave the island where the hotel is situated.


13. Phoney Tourism.

North Korea is one of the leading nations that is a master of lies and propaganda. They put on phoney shows for visitors so that people think that North Korea is a wealthy and prosperous country. But, all this phoney; this photo depicts a scene that was staged for tourists as propaganda, thinks Huniewicz. “We looked at a surreal scene that appeared like something out of a theatre in its perfection and artifice.”


14. You Are Not Free To See Everything.

Huniewicz and his team were not allowed to travel anywhere without their guides. This is because the Dictator doesn’t want anyone to document anything that will tarnish the reputation of his country. Everything that a tourist can capture has to glorify North Korea. For instance, this picture, where people can be seen walking on roads or a man peeing, could have landed Huniewicz in prison.

15. The Grand People’s Study House.

Located in the centre of Pyongyang, the Grand People’s Study House, a public library, features communistic books that would either glorify the dictatorship or criticise western ideologies. The library does contain some foreign books. However, one needs a ‘special’ permission to get them. Kim Jong Un thinks that Western ideas would contaminate the mind of North Koreans.

This picture shows a team playing volleyball. Cool eh? Kim Jong-il highlighted the importance of sports for the overall cultural development, but only long if its a team sport. Communism is strictly against individuality that cannot associate itself at large.


16. Food Shortages.

Huniewicz was sneakily able to capture the picture of an off-limits grocery store. He noticed the nearly-empty shelves in the store and that an apple cost about five dollars. It is no doubt why North Koreans have malnutrition.


17. Badges Of Loyalty.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Like the Nazi Germans, all North Koreans must keep one signature accessory with them: ”Leadership Loyalty Badge”, which has the portraits of Kim II Sung, Kim Jong II, and Kim Jong Un.

18. Constant Surveillance.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs
The army always watches the people in North Korea. “They [North Korean Army] are everywhere,” says Huniewicz. If one wants to see how the life was under the Nazi rule, this is the place.

19. Rules.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

In North Korea, it is forbidden to cut off the rest of the leader’s statues in a photograph. This place is known as Mansu Hill Grand Monument. The rule is to frame both the leaders, entirely, in a single picture. However, Huniewicz broke this rule too.


20. A Horrible Place.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Towards the end of his trip, Huniewicz realized that the country wasn’t just a mockery of bad communistic regimes and fanatic patriotism, but a parody of governance. “…but when you are in North Korea, it’s just not funny. It’s utterly horrible.”

Here is Part 2 of the article

This article is the first part of two-part series featuring illegal photographs captured by two brave travelers, Michal Huniewicz and Eric Lafforgue who risked their lives to shoot these images to let the world peek into life of North Koreans.

Photos by Eric Lafforgue.

Another photographer, Eric Lafforgue, was able to capture and smuggle some photographs out of North Korea. His pictures show the poverty, malnutrition and the condition of the army of North Korea.

1. Pyongyang.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

Pyongyang may be considered as the City of The Elite people, but it’s not true. There is a stark difference between what the government shows to the outside world and what lies inside North Korea. For instance in Pyongyang, the facades are well designed and maintained, but the insides are completely different from what one may expect.

2. Rural Homes.

The above picture is of a rural home in North Korea. Only the government has the right to designate a house for a particular family. If a family in the urban area is living in such poor conditions, one can only imagine what life would be in rural houses.

3. Fake Shows.

”They only show you what they want you to see”, said Lafforgue. He also mentions that his guides let him click the pictures of kids sitting on computers but, strictly forbade to take pictures when there was no electricity. Power cuts are a norm in North Korea, the fact that the government doesn’t want the outside world to know.

Lafforgue was able to capture this picture as soon as he took it. He, however, managed to save a copy of this picture.

4. Internet.

North Korea’s internet is all monitored by the government. You cannot access the foreign sites in North Korea, only a few state-owned services which mostly spread propaganda. And this doesn’t stop at the internet; cinema and television are similarly monitored.

5. Poverty.

The scale of poverty in North Korea is heart-breaking. North Korean officials do not allow to take pictures which feature poor kids wandering in search of bread and butter. However, when the poverty is prevailing all across this nation, it is not hard to click some pictures slyly.

6. Eating Grass.

This is one of the most popular pictures in the west. The tour guides get furious if you take a picture of people eating grass from the parks. Stricken by the poverty, North Korea is in a severe shortage of food. ” Some people even resort to eating grass,” Lafforgue sighed.

This photograph shows a man with malnutrition. “I saw most of the rural population suffering malnutrition,” exclaims Lafforgue.


7. Work ForSome Army.

One might think that the army in North Korea is one the strongest in the world, however, when one travels to North Korea, it’s not uncommon to see army doing poor work like cleaning sewers or farming in harsh conditions.


8. Grey Markets.

People resort to selling illegal products for a living. The government is too busy in developing the arms and ammunition that it has neglected the poor people. Grey market vendors sell cigarettes or sweets and are a common sight in places where officials are scarce.


9. The Paranoid Populace.

Lafforgue noticed that most of the population in North Korea are paranoid with outside people. They are conditioned to rebuke harshly if anything negative is said about their nation. There is no tolerance for criticism in North Korea. The tour guides asked Lafforgue to delete this picture because they thought that people would interpret this mother as homeless.

10. Transport.

Most North Koreans cannot afford private cars for two reasons. One because of the poverty and second, the communistic ideology which forbids private properties. The automotive industry in North Korea is al focused on the army. All the workers in North Korea commute through public transport which can be quite cumbersome.

11. Subway.

Pyongyang’s subway system is labyrinthine. North Korea’s tunnel system is the deepest in the world, as most tunnels lead to bomb shelters. ”A person saw me clicking the pictures of tubes and immediately asked me to delete them,” Lafforgue wrote.

12. Roads.

A report by CIA found that North Korea has 25,500 kilometres of road, but less than three per cent of it is paved. The photograph clearly shows the people levelling sand and dust on streets instead of pavement.

13. Failure of Traffic Rules.

Lafforgue explained that people are not used to seeing many cars on roads as cars are a recent development in the city. It is not uncommon to see people jaywalking or kids playing on the roads.

The Harsh Reality Of North Korea Revealed In Illegal Photographs

North Korea boasts about being disciplined and obedient to the regime. However. Lafforgue noticed that children often stay in the middle of the roads and watch people as they go by. ” This photo of a child in the middle of the road speaks a lot about the manners that communists have.”

14. Haircuts.

Even your haircut isn’t free from government control in North Korea. There are only 28 approved haircuts you can get, and Kim Jong-un’s ‘do isn’t on the list. Older men can have their hair as long as 2  inches, however.
Nothing in North Korea is free from the control of the government. Even the haircut has to of the approved style. There are only 28 approved haircuts in this country, and it is worth mentioning that Kim Jong-Un’s style is nowhere to be seen on the list. All men must keep their hair shorter than 2¾ inches. However, older men can keep longer hairs.

It’s not the men only whose haircut must be on the approved list, but women too face strict rules. Single ladies can have longer or curled hair, while married women must keep their hair short.

 15. Height.

Research based on those who fled from North Korea proves that the average height of North Koreans born after the Korean War is two inches shorter than the South Koreans. The shorter hights have been linked to the poverty and malnutrition that is widespread in the country.

16. The Army.

The military of North Korea is kept secret from the rest of the world. It is strictly forbidden to take pictures of the military in this country. Lafforgue risked his life to click this picture.

“If the officials saw me taking a picture of a soldier sleeping during his duty, they would have surely put me behind bars,” says Lafforgue.

17. The Statues.

In North Korea, it is forbidden to click a photo of the Kim Statues from the back. Lafforgue recalls,” It is considered very rude, but somehow, I managed to break this rule.”

18. North Korea’s Fake City.

As Lafforgue was moving towards South Korea, he came across the town of Kijong-dong, right along the border. This town was built after the Korean War. It was made so that people from South Korea would come to the north. “It’s a ghost town. No one lives there. It’s one among the propaganda of the North Korean regime.

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