• October 24, 2013

Reality on a Need-to-Know Basis

North Korea has long been one of the world’s most isolated places, but Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder has been visiting the country regularly since 2008 and helped establish an AP bureau in Pyongyang in 2012. As Guttenfelder says, “I’ve covered global stories where foreign photographers are everywhere. But in North Korea I’m usually the only one … In a world where nearly everything has already been photographed, it has become my job to reveal what it’s like inside this closed society.”

Since the introduction of 3G network service for mobile devices in North Korea this year, Guttenfelder has been uploading his images on Instagram, later including video on his feed. Click any of the still images or videos below to see details, and keep reading for Guttenfelder’s thoughts on using Instagram as part of his storytelling repertoire.

“Instagram is an immediate way to communicate. Each image may not be iconic, may only be a little detail, but they’re simple pieces of a bigger puzzle—it’s more about the sum of all the parts. When you add it all up, you get a sense of the place and the people. First I had to decide whether to choose Instagram over shooting with a regular camera. Now I have this further distinction, whether to go with stills or video. At 15 seconds, an Instagram video is almost more like a shifting still—in between a still and a video. I can open a window to our other senses. For me it’s the sound even more than the motion. It feels less permanent than a still image but can feel more real.

“The artifacts are funny but serious. They’re little objects that people use or make to represent their country to the outside world. They can say a lot. I’ve been picking them up starting as early as my first trip in 2000, like keepsakes for a scrapbook, and now I’m sharing them [via Instagram]. I feel like an archaeologist.

“For so long, the only glimpses we had of North Korea were from propaganda. This is a country with a preconceived idea of what I should show and even where I should stand. It’s so restrictive that the more tools I can use and the more I can attack a subject from different angles, the better. After 60 years, we finally have the power to see for ourselves.”

View North Korea in widescreen

Follow David Guttenfelder on Instagram and on his website.

Elizabeth Cheng Krist’s favorite kind of excursion is visiting museums and galleries to see more photography, especially in New York. She also loves to take long walks in new cities while traveling overseas. She has visited North Korea, but never saw a city or a museum there, so hopes to return.

There are 10 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Charlie
    November 22, 2013

    wow, what’s with the people getting up the photog for taking the photos? He was in NK, a place that has government minders ensure they don’t take any images that could make them look bad. You take photos of what you can. Check out his photo blogs if you want to see more images, he did take some sneaky ones also.

  2. Lena
    November 3, 2013

    It does look like the Soviet Union, where I grew up. Noisy parades, red flags, military uniform, people with just a shade of a smile on their faces.

  3. Adam
    November 3, 2013

    I appreciate the small insights into daily life for these people. What you chose to show seems very appropriate, since these small artifacts are truly telling of how they want to be seen, versus what we already know. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Thomas J. Zaleski
    October 29, 2013

    David Guttenfelder is of Salon Mag, a liberal rag, period. Great photos of a WHITEWASHED N. Korea, one of the most harsh and oppressive regimes in the history of the world.

    HARD core oppressor. Christians are ROUTINELY beat, imprisoned and MURDERED for practicing their faith. MILLIONS are starving.


  5. shiju
    October 29, 2013

    oll nice

  6. Nana
    October 25, 2013

    This reminds me my repressed childhood spent in Soviet Union. Everything was the same. I hope North Korean people will find right way one day

  7. ajil anto
    October 24, 2013

    Very interesting history. I like it

  8. Lady of the House
    October 24, 2013

    This is all quite limited to showy events, uniform and clearly of the privileged classes. Was there any chance to show the hard reality of life outside of PyongYang?

  9. Big Dred
    October 24, 2013

    So, while it is arduous for a journalist to get into the country and take photographs and videos, you decided to present us with pictures of stamps, money, matches, powdered Red Bull, bowling, and dancing? Isnt this the stuff that everyone can already see just by searching on the internet?

  10. Yves Choquette
    October 24, 2013

    I would like to have more details. How it is difficult or easy to go in? Did you have to hide to take those shot? I guess not the one with the military? Did you just pretend using your phone while shooting illegally?


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