A new view of North Korea
August 4, 2011 7:38 AM   Subscribe

Earlier this year, David Guttenfelder, chief Asia photographer for the Associated Press, along with Jean H. Lee, AP bureau chief in Seoul, were granted unprecedented access to parts of North Korea as part of the AP's efforts to expand coverage of the isolated communist nation. A new look at North Korea. WARNING: Fascinating.
posted by DoctorFedora (61 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite

 
Wonderful! Thank you.
posted by Wolfdog at 7:40 AM on August 4, 2011


This looks like Half-Life's "City 17".
posted by scolbath at 7:43 AM on August 4, 2011


The streets are so empty. A traffic cop directing invisible traffic -- there's a metaphor in there somewhere.
posted by Think_Long at 7:43 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


warning: blue
posted by rebent at 7:49 AM on August 4, 2011


So. Little. Advertising. Clutter. (Except for the Dear Leader.)
posted by DU at 7:50 AM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I'm pretty sure David Lynch would give an eye to witness that badminton racquet dance.
posted by griphus at 7:50 AM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


At turns, both more stark and more colorful than the tour with Kim Jong-il. I'm happy to see that there are libraries and computers with proper keyboard:mouse ratios, and even a screen or two that appears to be functional.
posted by filthy light thief at 7:52 AM on August 4, 2011


DU: So. Little. Advertising. Clutter. (Except for the Dear Leader.)

And so few cars, with such wide-spread support for alternative transportation! Sign me up!
posted by filthy light thief at 7:53 AM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Sustainable Agriculture!

Everyone is a Farmer!
posted by b1tr0t at 7:54 AM on August 4, 2011


This is fascinating. Thanks.
posted by odinsdream at 7:54 AM on August 4, 2011


Hard to know what to make of the street photos without knowing the time of day they were taken.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2011


Yeah, if you can ignore all the, uh, oppression and famine and insane dictator stuff, these photos paint an appealing picture. I love those empty streets...ample parking...probably very little noise pollution.
posted by Pants McCracky at 7:56 AM on August 4, 2011


These photos are actually quite uninteresting compared to the others that have been posted here. 1, 2, 3, 4.

It just seems like more of the same limited tour of the good bits.
posted by Sys Rq at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2011 [9 favorites]


DU, thank you! I couldn't put my finger on what seemed missing from these photos (besides, you know, people).
posted by Monster_Zero at 7:58 AM on August 4, 2011


It's what isn't being said that stands out.

No one is overweight. There's a distinct lack of color in many photos. The streets are empty. The infrastructure in many photos is crumbling, damaged or worn. And yes, no advertising. Nor is there much cultural creativity (except perhaps in architecture) or individuality on display.
posted by zarq at 8:00 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


(Though I sort of fail to see how a statue of an obese leader lounging around in what amounts to a throne could work to boost his popularity among his throngs of starving, overworked Communists.)
posted by Sys Rq at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2011


That first picture is amazing, it couldn't be any more lifeless. It looks exactly like what I pictured the world in 1984 to look like.
posted by doctor_negative at 8:03 AM on August 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Hard to know what to make of the street photos without knowing the time of day they were taken.

Everything I've read about modern North Korea indicates that the streets are deserted like that pretty much all the time. Barbara Demick's Nothing To Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea is a really fascinating recent book on the subject.
posted by something something at 8:05 AM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


Okay, so most of it looks distopian, but that elementary school with all the sweet taxidermied animals actually looks pretty awesome.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:08 AM on August 4, 2011 [6 favorites]


Additional pictures from offshore North Korea, showing more serious desolation and ruin.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 8:10 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Eerie! Streets empty of cars, buses, people, bicycles, everything. Waterways empty of boat traffic. I would expect lurching zombies around every corner.

The excited little kids on the train and the kid with the awesome pink tutu are great, though.
posted by elizardbits at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Though I sort of fail to see how a statue of an obese leader lounging around in what amounts to a throne could work to boost his popularity among his throngs of starving, overworked Communists.

Oh, that's not Dear Leader. You see, Frank Herbert is huge in the DPRK and that's just a recreation of the Harkonnen throne room over at ArrakisLand.
posted by griphus at 8:11 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I don't think I've ever seen a photo from North Korea taken in the summer. With greenery. And actual crops. Or flowers. Or grass.

I think that's what freaks me out the most. That and the lack of color.
posted by lydhre at 8:12 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


The whole country is like a mausoleum. Even the earth is dead.

I'll second the recommendation for Nothing to Envy.
posted by adamrice at 8:13 AM on August 4, 2011


Strangely beautiful.
posted by kryptondog at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2011


These photos are very confusing. There are 24 million people in North Korea. Where are they?
posted by DarlingBri at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2011


They (say they) finally finished the Ryugyong hotel? Huh.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:16 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Weird. It's like every building in that entire country needs a fresh coat of paint. You don't usually think of that as one of the inevitable results of a 20-year famine, but hey, there you go.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:22 AM on August 4, 2011


Also, somewhat related : The Five Craziest Childrens' Cartoons from North Korea

They mostly involve protecting food from foreign cartoon animals.
posted by Afroblanco at 8:23 AM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Working the fields or starving in their homes, DarlingBri.
posted by Wyatt at 8:26 AM on August 4, 2011


(Though actually, I think the ideal of the empty street is almost sought after by the NK government. Total control)
posted by Wyatt at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2011


Those are the happiest fake badminton players I've ever seen.
posted by Capt. Renault at 8:27 AM on August 4, 2011


But there didn't really seem to be enough people working in the fields. Which leaves starving in their homes. Pleh.

Also, no one over the age of 6 is smiling in any of those pix.
posted by elizardbits at 8:28 AM on August 4, 2011


They (say they) finally finished the Ryugyong hotel? Huh.

They finshed the outer shell. At least, one side of it...
posted by Theta States at 8:30 AM on August 4, 2011


Based on previous accounts of the DPRK, I'd bet that even the "good" stuff -- people playing in a pool, using computers, attending a concert, riding the subway -- is only staged for the cameras, with a bunch of lucky extras shipped in to enjoy the air-conditioning.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 8:31 AM on August 4, 2011


See also: Kernbeisser's Flickr stream.
posted by zztzed at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2011


Ah, nevermind, I see that was covered in one of the posts Sys Rq linked.
posted by zztzed at 8:43 AM on August 4, 2011


The picture of the girl's choir strikes me as rather Lynchian too.
posted by Flashman at 8:54 AM on August 4, 2011


There's no lights on. Anywhere.
posted by Hoopo at 9:07 AM on August 4, 2011


Additional pictures from offshore North Korea, showing more serious desolation and ruin.

Is this supposed to link to a photo series on Detroit?

posted by elizardbits at 9:17 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Hoopo: "There's no lights on. Anywhere."

Swimming pool.

Also, I would like to try that water slide. But the admission price is WAY too high.
posted by zarq at 9:17 AM on August 4, 2011


What? No "I have seen the future and it works"? Not even a "At least out isnt Capitalism"? Is this really metafilter?
posted by happyroach at 9:18 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


What are you trying to say, happyroach?
posted by ook at 9:25 AM on August 4, 2011


Unprecedented access? I am sure they were provided a government "guide".
The link was enjoyable. Thank you.
posted by BuffaloChickenWing at 9:30 AM on August 4, 2011


elizardbits : I would expect lurching zombies around every corner.

The depiction of a zombie attack on North Korea was one of the most compelling parts of World War Z. The entire population simply disappears without a trace. Max Brooks left it entirely to the imagination whether they fled underground and fought off the zombie horde or if the infection spread to their bunker system, leaving a booby trap for whomever opens those bunkers in the future.
posted by dr_dank at 9:33 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Looks like stills from The Road.
posted by zzazazz at 10:11 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, I would like to try that water slide. But the admission price is WAY too high.

There are nicer ones in non-North-Korean indoor waterparks.

Also, I keep expecting unixrat to jump into the thread and reveal that the pool is in reality only half as large as it appears in the photo.
posted by BrashTech at 10:19 AM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The pair made visits to familiar sites accompanied by government minders, and were also allowed to travel into the countryside accompanied by North Korean journalists instead of government officials.

Is there a such thing as independent media in North Korea?
posted by BobbyVan at 11:01 AM on August 4, 2011


If you're interested, there's a documentary called A State of Mind (available to Watch Instantly) on two girls who are gymnasts participating in the Mass Games - a big pageant performed every year in honor of the Dear Leader's birthday. It was really incredible, both for what it showed, what they said, and what was left out or unsaid.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:05 AM on August 4, 2011 [4 favorites]


Is this not a double? I remember a post that seems identical in my memory. If not it's almost exactly like another website with practically the same photos and backstory.
posted by Liquidwolf at 11:11 AM on August 4, 2011


enjoyed the photos, but as others have said: not really that impressive in terms of access when compared to kernbeisser's flickr sets (which are truly amazing).
posted by jjoye at 11:28 AM on August 4, 2011


This is an aside, vaguely connected because I saw the Am flag in the museum. How many people know that the MIG 15s flown against us in the Korean war were sometimes piloted by either Russian or Chinese pilots? Our govt did not want us to know this for fear of widening the war to WWIII...but Gen MacArthur, aware of this, wanted to hit both Russia and China, to get it all done with. Truman fired him. We did not let the public know about the pilots.
And did you know that the MIGs got about 9 of our planes knocked out for every one of theirs we hit? That figure reversed when MOSSAD in Israel managed to get a MIG via Iraq escape pilot, and sent it to --Area 51! where it was reversed engineered...and then we knew how to handle that threat. We were so delighted that we sent in return a big shipment of fighter planes to Israel.
Gen M's "desires" were also known through NSA tapping...
yep. all documented stuff I put here.and yes, these brief jottings are from reliable sources.
posted by Postroad at 11:32 AM on August 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


The swimming pool was unexpected, and the subway equally so. Gleaming. Notice the identical suits on all the guys in the computer lab. But the rural folk, in the fields, or pumping that little rail cart, all are desolate, starving, and unsupported in any meaningful way by their society.
posted by stonepharisee at 11:39 AM on August 4, 2011


No one is overweight.

When the New York Philharmonic visited North Korea a few years ago, the Times ran a photo on A1 showing an emaciated woman with an infant strapped to her back gathering sticks as a procession of limousines drove by. Can't find it at the moment, but it was a powerful photo.
posted by mlis at 1:34 PM on August 4, 2011


There's no lights on. Anywhere.

You ain't kidding.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:42 PM on August 4, 2011


Gen M's "desires" were also known through NSA tapping...

Posty, The General was relieved in April 1951, The NSA was formed in November 1952.

perhaps you were thinking of AFSA.
posted by clavdivs at 1:43 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Try Army Security Agency, later merged into what became NSA.
posted by Postroad at 3:30 PM on August 4, 2011


Try Army Security Agency, later merged into what became NSA.Google ASA. In passing: I was in Korea in 1950, yes, on the American side.
posted by Postroad at 3:32 PM on August 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Central Pyongyang looks like a high rise, high density prison complex.
The entire city looks like a prison complex.
Except for that one building in the distance that looks like they recycled an old Concorde.

Astonishing place.
posted by cogneuro at 4:34 PM on August 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yes Postroad I know you were and had thanked you years ago for your service. ASA is a logical choice but truman formed the CIA, would they not be in a better postion to tap the general? The AFSA was interesting. Here is a nice background though redacted. Start at pg. 87-88 and read on and see if you can connect some dots.
posted by clavdivs at 6:30 PM on August 4, 2011


Sys Rq, somehow that total blackout is really unnerving.
posted by harriet vane at 2:39 AM on August 6, 2011


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