Photography in North Korea is restricted and heavily patrolled. More often than not, photography is not even allowed. Here are 28 banned photos that were secretly smuggled out of North Korea. They all offer a fascinating and heartbreaking look into the secluded nation.
1. North Korea is not only extremely isolated, but also very secretive, and tourists visiting the country must be accompanied by government officials at all times. Eric Lafforgue is a photographer who has visited North Korea a total of six times, and the photos he took there are extremely compelling. He made it inside the borders of North Korea and risked it all by smuggling memory cards with countless pictures out of the country. He is now banned from entering the country again. Now, because of the photos he took, people around the world are able to get a glimpse of what life in North Korea is really like. This first image is a photo of a Kim Jong-un statue in North Korea. It is considered rude and disrespectful to take pictures of any Kim statue from behind. Was Lafforgue trying to make a political statement with this photo? It’s not clear, but it is a striking photo.
2. A lineup for a bus. Whether or not this is an average day in North Korea is not clear, but there have been various reports throughout the years stating that many societal services within North Korea are not fully functioning. This photo of North Koreans waiting in line for a bus could be an example of that.
3. And if there needed to be some anecdotal proof of just how dire the situation in North Korea is, take a look at this stunning photo. It shows a broken down bus being pushed towards its destination. All may not be as it seems in North Korea, and this photo is proof of just that.
4. Power outages are extremely common in North Korea. When a power outage occurs, North Korean officials blame it on the American embargo. Without electricity, most North Koreans are left in the dark, but of course, they don’t want us to know that. Could you live without an essential service like electricity?
5. This picture was taken in Pyongyang’s subway system. It is the deepest subway in the world because of the fact that it also serves as a bomb shelter. When Eric took this picture, he was told to delete it immediately by a North Korean official who spotted him taking it. He told Eric to delete it because the tunnel was in it.
6. Eric was also told that taking pictures of the poor in North Korea is forbidden. Will his photography inspire a change in North Korea? Or, will the government just clamp down even more so on Western journalists? Eric showed courage by risking his freedom to snap telling shots like these.
7. Poverty-stricken children and families typically work on farms when they need money. It’s quite apparent from this photos that many North Korean civilians do not live a life of excess and comfort. What would you think if you traveled abroad and saw countless children working manual labor jobs like this?
8. According to Eric, ‘Grey’ market vendors are a common sight to see in North Korea. The small, shanty-like vendors sell what little they have to earn an honest living. It is extremely hard for North Koreans to make money any other way, so they are forced to sell what they can to support their families and children.
9. During the Kimjongilia festival, North Koreans must line up in the thousands to visit monuments. And in a country run by a strict dictator like Kim Jong-un, it is not clear whether these North Korean civilians want to attend this festival out of their own free will or whether the state makes it mandatory.
10. The buildings located inside of the city of Pyongyang typically look extremely extravagant and even beautiful on the outside. Upon closer inspection though, most of the buildings in the city are actually rundown and not well maintained, especially on the inside. They are dilapidated and unsafe.
11. Cars are still a foreign sight to see for peasants living in North Korea. Often, children will play in the middle of the roads when there are no cars in sight. It’s unsettling to see such an empty road, isn’t it? When children do see cars, it is usually a rare and exciting experience for them.
12. Eric was told that he was not allowed to take any pictures with the flash on at night because it would scare people. If there is one thing that is clear from Eric’s work, it’s the stark, bareness of North Korea. It really is like taking a look into another world. Here we see an example of that.
13. A North Korean soldier takes a much needed nap in a field. Moments like this must be far and few between for servicemen and women in North Korea. North Korean government officials would like to have us believe that soldiers do not rest, but this photo proves that even North Korean soldiers are just like the rest of us.
14. A North Korean woman dressed in a pink gown stands amidst a large crowd of soldiers. Considering the fact that government officials do not allow pictures of the army to be taken, this one in particular stands out, though it is unknown why this woman is standing among the crowd.
15. North Korean officials would like you to believe that the North Korean army is the strongest and most prominent in the world. Eric explains in his pictures that most of the time, soldiers complete menial tasks to help farmers or other workers. Some of these tasks involve things like lifting and transporting logs.
16. This is a common scene in non-urban areas of North Korea. When the common populace does not have access to basic and essential services like water for showering, citizens have to take matters into their own hands and do whatever it takes to get by, even if it means bathing in a body of water.
17. Much like pictures of poverty stricken areas in North Korea are forbidden, so are photographs of those suffering from malnutrition. It is a common occurrence to see malnourished, sick and injured North Koreans on the street. It is a sad but all too real sight to see in the streets of North Korea.
18. There are only two supermarkets in the city of Pyongyang, but only the wealthy are permitted to shop at these supermarkets. Items are sold in euros as well as in their local currency, the North Korean won. Can you imagine what life would be like if you weren’t permitted to shop at a supermarket?
19. The safety standards in North Korea are extremely low, as can be seen in this picture. Looking at these photos is almost like looking into a world that is just barely holding on. Government officials don’t want the rest of the world to see the truth behind what is really going on in North Korea.
20. When attending the delphinium in Pyongyang, photographs of the soldiers in the crowd are not permitted. Soldiers typically make up 99 per cent of the spectators.As you can see in this photo, a majority of the spectators are soldiers, while only a few of the people in this audience are not.
21. Eric was told that he must delete this picture because North Korean officials were sure he would say that the mother and child in this picture were homeless. It’s hard to say for sure if this mother and child are homeless. It makes you wonder what the living conditions are like for poor North Koreans.
22. A broom rests on the stature of Kim Il-sung. This is heavily forbidden, as it is seen as a sign of disrespect. Kim Il-sung was the first leader of North Korea, founding the country in 1948 and running it until his death in 1994. He is considered the “eternal leader” in the North Korean constitution.
23. North Korean government officials become furious and upset when this type of picture is taken. In the past, people have been known to say that the poor residing in North Korea eat grass. A survey conducted in 2013 found that the average life expectancy in North Korea is 69.8 years old.
24. North Korean officials are known to often encourage photographers to take pictures of North Koreans while they are using computers. What you may not know is that there is no electricity to run these computers. Internet access is limited for the general population.
25. Families who live in rural homes are handpicked by the government, but most still live in poverty. This bathroom was used as a cistern to store water. This photo is a stunning example of what life is really like for the poor in North Korea. Can you imagine living in these types of conditions?
26. Public transportation is nearly non-existent in North Korea. Soldiers are often found hitchhiking on highways, while permits are required for citizens to travel to and from different areas. Rail transport is the most common type of transportation in North Korea, as the country has some 5,200 km of railway.
27. Pictured in this photo is a car belonging to one of Pyongyang’s more wealthy citizens. In North Korea, it is actually considered taboo for wealthy citizens to show off their expensive possessions like cars and jewelry. This particular wealthy citizen was having a barbecue with other elite North Koreans.
28. Photographers are forbidden from taking pictures of soldiers who are relaxing and/or taking a break from their duties. Clearly, the North Korean government want their soldiers to look focused and ready for war at a moment’s notice.