Eric Lafforgue is a photographer who travels the world. He went to North Korea 6 times between 2008 and 2012. During his journeys, he managed to take pictures of this country and show it as it really was. He also secretly took his photos with him on a USB flash drive. But his sixth visit was the last for Eric because the North Korean government has forbidden Eric to enter the country because he refused to delete from the internet the photos depicting North Korea in a bad light.
People who managed to escape from North Korea tell bone-chilling stories about their ordinary life there. But at the same time, lots of North Koreans believe their life is happy. Do they think that because they’ve never seen any other variants?
Eric’s photos show the life hidden from everyone in The Land of the Morning Calm. By the way, the photographer was lucky: if the border guards had found the photos, Eric would have faced serious problems (including imprisonment.)
WeGoRo invites you to have a look at Eric Lafforgue’s photos of North Korea and form your own opinion about life at the northern part of the Korean Peninsula.
Pyongyang couple, 2008
This picture is quite unusual for North Korea because expressing your feelings in public is treated as something obscene here and in the majority of Asian countries. What is more, this “ordinary” photo belongs to a banned category because it’s prohibited to take photos of soldiers, especially when they are off duty.
North Korean female soldiers in Tower of the Juche Idea, Pyongyang, 2012
One more “tabooed” military photo. In 2015, because of the lack of men of military age, the country started recruiting women. At the age of 17, all North Korean girls have to arrive at the recruiting office to start 7 long years of military service. The conditions for both men and women are equally tough: soldiers live in cold barracks and, just like most of the country’s population, suffer from starvation. Women also suffer from a lack of hygiene products.
North Korean pioneers paying their respects to the Dear Leaders, Pyongyang, 2012
Such photos can also fall into the prohibited category for several reasons. First, the slipped pioneer’s tie, and second, children may look exhausted from malnutrition. But the government doesn’t want to admit that most of the population doesn’t get enough food. The daily ration of most people in North Korea consists of 200 g (7 oz) of maize, traditional kimchi cabbage, and water. By the way, contrary to popular belief, rice in North Korea is served mostly during holidays, not as an everyday dish.
But we should also mention that people in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea don’t starve to death anymore. Starting from 2013, the level of grain harvested has grown each year, and it helps provide the population with the required minimum.
Hallway inside the subway, Pyongyang, 2012
The subway in Pyongyang is a strategic facility, and that’s why you may take photos only if your tour guide allows you. What is more, there are only 3 stations that are open to foreign visitors: tourists are allowed to walk there and even ride a train. But as soon as a train arrives at the terminal (for guests) station, they’re kindly requested to come out. And of course, the hallway isn’t on the list of “photo-friendly” places.
Residential District, Kaesong, on the border with South Korea, 2012
It’s also forbidden to take photos of houses (especially of those ones that aren’t perfect). By the way, you won’t see any curtains, and it isn’t because they are also banned. People just don’t have any extra money to buy them.
Women selling food in the street, Hamhung, 2012
There are trays with street food in North Korea as well as everywhere in Asia. But the menu is quite poor: as a rule, people are invited to buy traditional kimchi cabbage. Those who have tried it say it’s very tasty and spicy. But we might experience a stomachache because of our unprepared stomachs.
Statues of 2 leaders, Pyongyang, 2012
This photo of 2 of the country’s leaders can also be treated as forbidden because the shot is taken from the side, though it’s prohibited to take photos of the leaders’ backs. Moreover, it’s forbidden to “cut” a monument’s head and legs or repeat their posture while taking pictures. By the way, it’s also forbidden to take photos of leaders when a shadow falls upon them.
Red tramway, Pyongyang, 2012
This is one more picture that can get banned. And what is the reason? Take a closer look at this tramway: its age, rusty sides, and broken glass reveal a lot about North Korean public transport. By the way, there is no public transport at all in some regions: people use carts and carriages — just like in ancient times.
Old houses in Kaesong, 2011
These cute (at first sight) houses are extremely uncomfortable. To heat a house, people use hearths that also serve as kitchen stoves. And winters in North Korea are quite severe.
Queueing in Pyongyang, 2011
Considering the condition of public transport, power outages, and the lack of fuel, long lines are just a normal feature in North Korea. So we don’t need to guess why the government doesn’t like such pictures.
A woman saying, “No photo,” Hamhung, 2011
Local citizens don’t like it when tourists take photos of them: the fear of foreigners is treated as an ordinary thing from childhood. And the government may not like this photo either because the woman and child look exhausted and quite unhappy.
A chemical factory where a synthetic fiber is produced that North Koreans use for the suits they wear, 2011
Each chemical factory in North Korea is a strategic object and, therefore, secret. Though tourists may look at it, they’re not allowed to go inside. You should also be careful while taking photos because, as we’ve already said, people treat foreigners with caution.
Fake medical test for tourist visits at Pyongyang Hospital, 2011
This photo causes lots of questions. For example, the patient closes one eye with a spoon, but the second one is closed as well. And how does the doctor examine her eyesight? Officers who look after tourists might have noticed this misstep. Though such scenes are perfectly rehearsed, actors can also make mistakes.
Children going to do collective work in the fields, Pyongyang, 2010
Each citizen (adult or child) should bring benefits and help the Great Leaders make people’s lives better. Field collective work is a child’s obligation, and kids are used as a source of free labor. By the way, contrary to lots of poor countries, North Korea provides a really good education: 99% of people can read and write.
Soldiers pluck grass, Pyongyang, 2009
Such scenes are really common for Pyongyang, but tour guides don’t allow tourists to take pictures of them. The reason is simple: Western countries can treat such photos as proof that North Koreans starve. Though their menu is quite poor and includes grass, in this picture, soldiers pluck yellow grass to make a lawn look better.
Female soldiers working in the fields, 2008
North Korean military service mostly implies help for workers and peasants: there are not so many people to work because the soil in the country is mostly unsuitable for agriculture. Moreover, someone should look after workers and reveal situations of workers not performing their duties well. Due to the government’s official version, soldiers only help workers to achieve goals set by leaders.
Vapor truck on the road, 2011
Because of the lack of fuel, many cars run on gas outside of Pyongyang. And this gas is produced by burning charcoal. It’s not surprising that such fuel that was used in Europe during the Second World War causes damage to already unsafe vehicles.
Village in the Chilbo sea area, 2010
Due to Eric’s words, a guide took his camera after he took this shot. The reason is obvious: the poverty catches the eye.
Portrait of a North Korean girl using a computer during a tourist visit, Hamhung, 2011
This scene seems to be an ordinary one: a girl sitting in front of a computer. But there is one important feature: the computer is switched off. For those who have already visited North Korea, it’s a rather common situation. Power cuts are an ordinary occurrence because there are just a couple of power stations in the country.
Barbed wire along the coast, 2008
According to the official version, the main purpose of this fence is to protect North Korea from danger. But it may also be a tool that helps keep people inside the country because people who try to escape use every opportunity to leave North Korea.
And have you ever been to North Korea? What was your impression? Share with us in the comments.