This Journalist Took Portraits In North Korea And People Opened Up To Tell Their Fascinating Stories

Photographer and artist Eric Lafforgue visited North Korea for the first time in 2008. At the time, there were no mobile phones in the country and the only pictures people were taking were thanks to the "official government sanctioned photographers" who stood at the entrance of the main monuments. Essentially, photography wasn't common among residents.

So, every time Eric took a picture, he quickly snapped another one to offer to his subjects. According to Eric, many people opened up when he offered them a photo, and decided to share their stories (which is an incredibly difficult thing to get out of someone in North Korea, as people are generally not allowed to say much to tourists).

For more information on Eric, check out his website.

This is Miss Kim. She was a French speaking guide at the War Museum. I met her 5 times during my trips, and she kept on telling me she learned French in Pyongyang university. In fact, I learned later that she spent her childhood in Algeria where her father was a diplomat. But for the sake of propaganda, she was advised to tell people that she learned it in North Korea, to give the impression that people can learn a second language perfectly in their education system.

This woman's job was to sell flowers to visitors (including tourists) so that they can lay them in front of the statues of the Leaders in Mansudae Hill in Pyongyang. It cost 3 euros for the flowers. But here's the best part: as soon as someone put the flowers on the monument, an old lady would come, take the flowers, and resell them.

In Pyongyang, I took the polaroids of the women working at a restaurant. Then, the owner came and asked for one, in English! She (the owner) was the wife of a high ranking North Korean diplomat. She had lived in NYC for 2 years. When I asked her what her impression of Americans was, she said they were very fat, nice people.

On a Sunday afternoon, on the Taedong river in Pyongyang, the North Koreans come to have a BBQ or a picnic. It's a very different atmosphere, with lots of Soju (rice alcohol) and smiles.

Here's an interesting "behind-the-scenes" fact about Pyongyang (one of the most visited city by tourists)... it is a completely governmentally organized representation of North Korea. Only those deemed "healthy" looking or of a certain wealth are allowed to live in the city, and even still only a select few may interact with tourists.

The perception visitors are allowed to see is a completely false reality, fully under the control of the government, from those living in Pyongyang, to the guides that interact with tourists.

Every new couple comes to Mansudea hill to pay respect to the dear Leaders' statues in Pyongyang on the day of their wedding (can somebody say ideal honeymoon?! We all want to go see statues after we get married, right? RIGHT?!) By looking at their face, this couple does not look happy to be there.

Here are some guards inside the subway, taking care of the arrivals and departures of the wagons. Usually, they act like little robots, for the Polaroids they became humans!

In the countryside: bikes and farms. No cars, nothing else.

Here is a picture taken in the countryside. In Pyongyang, depending on the mood of the Leaders, riding a bike is not possible for women. In the countryside, there is no choice but to move from one point to another, but occasionally women will be punished.

Another interesting law in North Korea is that every household must display a portrait of their leaders in the house. When visiting some houses, I asked the people where they wanted to stand for the picture, and everybody answered: "Below the dear Leaders' portraits". Once, I had to do the Polaroid again as the Leaders portraits were cut. Unacceptable.

My guide asked me to throw away this Polaroid as I took the picture from the back. It is forbidden to take the picture from this angle in North Korea, as it's seen as disrespectful.

This was taken during a visit to a kindergarten in Hamhung, in the sleeping room for the kids.

Here are two North Korean guides at the Victorious Fatherland Liberation War Museum (aka the War Museum) in Pyongyang. For two hours they explained, (with tons of lies), the "glorious victories" of North Korea against the American imperialists.

Here, a North Korean colonel stands with a soldier on the DMZ (a demilitarized strip of land that runs between North and South Koreas, important for negotiations between the two lands) in the part where you can see South Korea through binoculars. First, he refused to pause, but when he saw the Polaroid of one soldier, he ordered me to take one of him too.

Here is a waitress playing accordion in a restaurant. The tradition in many North Korean restaurants (at least in Pyongyang) is that once the waitstaff have finished serving food, they all come to sing.

Here is a cook in a restaurant in Pyongyang with a Hello Kitty apron. When I asked her about Hello Kitty, she didn't know what it was. She thought it was a North Korean character.

Here's a colonel on the DMZ. He was speaking about peace, about the oppression of the Americans, and the day after the meeting North Korea was going to have a nuclear test. He asked to have one Polaroid in front of the South Korean building to show his wife where he was working.

Here is the DMZ from the North Korean side. As there were no South Korean soldiers or American soldiers on the other side. The guide said that they were afraid to be seen. Cowards, he said.

Accordion classroom in Mangyongdae Schoolchildren's Palace, in Pyongyang. This is a visit that every tourist does. The guide opens the door and for 30 seconds you can see accordion, dance, singing, calligraphy Meanwhile, the guide keeps on telling them: "We are late, we are late" and closes the door abruptly.

Here is a worker woman in the mineral water factory of Nampo. The guide was so proud to show us this factory, and especially excited that it had been visited by President Mitterand before he was elected in France. But in fact, the sound of the machines was incredibly loud and aggressive, and everybody was sorry for this young worker who had to stand there during our touristic visit. She was forbidden to leave her position to take the Polaroid picture.


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