• October 28, 2013

David Guttenfelder on Seeing Life for Yourself

“It’s not a cardboard movie facade, it’s a real place—people have lives, they get up and go to work.” —David Guttenfelder

Light shines through a window on to a tank filled with goldfish inside an office at the Korean Central News Agency building in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Light shines through a window onto a tank filled with goldfish inside an office at the Korean Central News Agency building in Pyongyang, North Korea from National Geographic’s October 2013 story “The Real North Korea.”

David Guttenfelder has gained intimate access to North Korea, a feat that few other Western photographers or journalists have been able to do. To the rest of the world, North Korea is an isolated place, with only snippets of information about the people or the government leaked out to the global news. But Guttenfelder has made nearly 25 trips to North Korea over the past several years and feels a great responsibility to bring back the pictures that others cannot. Guttenfelder has worked outside of the United States his entire photographic career. He started as a freelance photographer in East Africa and has traveled to more than 75 countries working for the Associated Press.  He is now the AP’s chief photographer for Asia. Mika Chance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

View video snapshots from North Korea

This video portrait was produced by National Geographic magazine in partnership with the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. It is part of an ongoing series of conversations with the photographers of the magazine, exploring the power of photography and why this life of imagemaking suits them so well. Learn more about the making of the series and watch the full trailer here.

Follow David Guttenfelder on Instagram and his website.

Video Production Credits
Photographer: David Guttenfelder
Producers: Pamela Chen, NGM
Chad A. Stevens, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Associate Producer: Elyse Lipman, NGM
Editors: Mika Chance, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Camera and Sound: Spencer Millsap, NGM, Shannon Sanders, NGM

There are 38 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. spicy McLovin
    September 2, 2015

    GOOD S*** BRUH! (Using you as a character in my English report)

  2. Ramesh parajuli
    December 12, 2014

    I love the way you have worked, I am truly inspired by your work. I would like to know how does it feel when you make something possible which is quite hard for others. Even i love taking photographs myself but we don’t have the knowledge and resource for professional photography. I would like to learn and experience the work with you. It’s my passion but i don’t have enough knowledge to make it profession. I would like to know from you what makes photography so different that we feel and see things from photographs.

  3. sophia p
    September 2, 2014

    Your work truly inspires me. I love the way you are able to capture the essence of time and emotion in your work. It would be incredible to work along side you as a possible intern. Please email me letting me know what it takes to be a photographer. i would love to hear your words of wisdom. Thank you for all you have done. You have truly sparked my passion and i am eager to learn. My dream is to travel the world and take pictures that speak…

  4. jeanne
    September 1, 2014

    I am soooo jealous, you are living my dream, I would love to be respected for my work, right now I’m used for my gift, next week I’m doing another wedding for free. I truly love the works you display, and your bravery for capturing : fear, anger, death, and most important beauty. It is an amazing journey for you all

  5. Hemal
    August 21, 2014

    i m inspiring to photography to u and i want be work with you as a intern.
    such your passion is inspiring to me.

  6. prashant
    July 9, 2014

    you……this film clip makes me want do to better than just capture beauty

  7. gm firoz
    June 30, 2014


  8. amit thorat
    May 13, 2014

    sir i want to chance to work with you.

  9. Ahmed Suman
    April 19, 2014


  10. Tommy Johns
    January 30, 2014

    I wish the peoples of both North Korea and the U.S. would realize there is no reason for hatred between us; we have grown up each believing in his/her own country and values.

  11. jedd
    December 20, 2013

    We must see real state of north korea. Photography don’t have ALL

  12. Andrew
    November 27, 2013

    North Korea is amazingly reclusive. One of the most oppressive states ever that remains in the modern world. It remains a mystery even till today. Your work had opened up a glimpse of this mysterious elusive state which the world ought to see. Well done. Keep it up.

  13. ♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥+♥
    November 6, 2013

    이 학교 아이들의 사진 나를 불쾌 선을 그었다. 내가 한미 사촌들이 있다-는 이탈리아 및 한국은,, 그것은 미국에서 살고 있습니다. 그러나 일은 부모가 항상 우리에게 노르딕 찾고 놈들과 결혼하기를 찾을 수 있을 거라는 기대되고 있다, 그리고 돌 많지 않습니다.

  14. jrichardone
    November 4, 2013

    I thought the pictures were great. Just returned from a trip there in August. I found the country fascinating. I found the people friendly and wanting to talk. Not about politics. They seemed happy to see us. If not for politicians, we could all get along.

  15. Som
    November 4, 2013

    Your article is great. I like the part NK people dancing in the dark. About the children’s drawings, NK encourage school children to draw pictures of killing USA solders is same as the US TV talk show Jimmy Kimmel airing children to KILL ALL Chinese. I wonder how the Chinese feel. Each country have their issue and unique. Play with respect, world peace.

  16. Gabby
    November 4, 2013

    I follow David on Instagram and he delivers some very beautiful photos of NK. I am very excited to read about him here and that he is now AP’s chief photographer for Asia.

  17. moreagain
    November 4, 2013

    Very good!I know it’s true

  18. Rado
    November 3, 2013

    The use of wintwer coats indoor is:
    the energy is restricted even on winter.

  19. trevar
    November 3, 2013

    Very interesting! I think the more people see more of North Korea the more understanding there may be between everyone …I hope the younger leaders of Nth Korea realise there is much to be gained from having friends in the West and also the benifits of Tourism to their economy.

  20. ichard j. manzi
    November 3, 2013

    hi david….I spent 2 years of my young life as n American soldier in seoul korea…I have a great deal of fondness for the korean people…I did notice the signs asking for the reunification of the Korean peninsula..from your perspective…what are the chances?kumupsimnida anyaekashipsho….

  21. Antoinette Amegbletor
    November 3, 2013

    Am glad to see NK through your lences!! Great work David, thanks very much.

  22. Dorian Mattar
    November 3, 2013

    Yes they have lives, but they also get indoctrinated to kill US citizens when they are children.

    So no, it’s not that normal.

    We don’t like N Korea, but we don’t indoctrinate children to hate them.

  23. Sarah Bernstein
    November 3, 2013

    Great respect! Wonderful photos. Thank you

  24. Adewale
    November 3, 2013

    Thank you for bringing this photographs, they are orderly, uses the foot bridge, and the streets look clean, but they look unhappy, the smiles are fake to the best of my opinion, their leaders, should give them a little freedom, they all look as if they are being forced to live the life, they live, all in all thank you for bringind this.

  25. Isabel Lugo
    November 3, 2013

    By accident, I viewed this excellent and inspiring work. Loved It

  26. Marthe ledoux
    November 3, 2013

    I have just come back from 16 days in DPRK. Would like to send you my iPad photos. I am sooo attached to what I saw in this country that I cannot get It out of my mind. Been back 1 month today.

  27. Larry
    November 3, 2013

    The photographer captures the humanity of the NK people.
    It is not their fault that they have been brutalized by a force resembling feudal power.

  28. Tim Roberts
    November 3, 2013

    These great photos take me back to the late 90’s when I worked in DPRK for an NGO but where are photos of the lady traffic police!

  29. T. Ramey
    November 3, 2013

    I wonder how the people of the world would feel if the USA began a campaign to encourage school children to draw pictures of them killing North Korean soldiers? Why isn’t the civilized world outraged about how NK teaches its children to kill at such a young age. I think maybe we should give NK some of its own medicine. The leaders of NK encourage hate, not its citizens.

  30. kapil suryawamshi
    November 3, 2013

    its nice..

  31. Rebecca Wilcock
    November 3, 2013

    When looking at the wide screen image of children’s drawings it seems to me that the image may be mis-labeled. Kindergarten-aged children do not draw so well and the seldom color so neatly. It seems to me that many of the drawings were pre-drawn by adults or older students and colored afterwards by students who were older than 5-6.
    It is interesting to look behind the closed doors of N. Korea. I appreciate the dangers & risks that this work involves and wish you safe passage. Thanks, Becky

  32. Mary
    November 2, 2013

    Thank you……this film clip makes me want do to better than just capture beauty.

  33. Harvey M
    November 2, 2013

    Great pics, but why do all the people in your pictures wear heavy winter coats indoors? IE, women waiting for their hair to be permed.

  34. Matthew
    November 1, 2013

    Its incredible that even today we get to see photos and opinions from people who have visited NK and have escape. As sad as it is I want to live to see the day that NK and SK are united under one flag.

  35. Arpan Samanta
    October 31, 2013

    I just read your article. And its truely inspirable. I myself love to photography and videography and to travel on such journies. And its encouraged me again.

  36. Derek
    October 30, 2013

    This is excellent!

  37. Tanya
    October 30, 2013

    I just read the book Camp14 and would love to be a part of discovering Korea. Great work!

  38. Daniel S.
    October 30, 2013

    inspiring. I hope to become someone like you one day.

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