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Street Photog Visits North Korea to Shoot Everyday Life in the Mysterious Country

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We’ve had precious few chances to get a glimpse into the secretive country of North Korea. With the exception of a few AP photographers working out of the DPRK who have taken to Instagram to share their work, photos of the people of North Korea are rare. It’s not like your friends’ Flickr streams often fill up with photos from their recent North Korean vacation.

That’s exactly why Stockholm-based photographer Simon Röder wanted so badly to go there. And after some planning and a few obstacles, the street photographer was able to turn the trip into a reality, and come back with the photos to prove it.

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Röder is a 20-year-old who has been experimenting with street photography for the past 2 years, and ever since he got his first full-time job, he’s been saving up for a dedicated photography trip.

“I wanted to travel to some secret place and capture everyday life,” he told us over email. “I had earlier watched some documentaries about trips to North Korea, and thought, ‘Hey, why shouldn’t I try to go there?’ It seems like an interesting and uncommon place to visit.”

Röder wanted to show a side of North Korea that isn’t often captured. The “messed-up” political system, as he calls it, often steals the attention away from the North Korean people, who Röder wanted to show are “just normal people like you and me.”

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As you might have guessed, once he landed in North Korea, there were several challenges to getting the shots he wanted to get:

I knew that there would be some restrictions with where and when I could take photos. I was allowed to bring one camera with me, but on the spot the guides had some pretty odd rules. One thing that occurred several times was that I was only allowed to shoot in one direction — for example: only to the West, not East — even though there wasn’t anything weird in the “wrong” direction.

Additionally, the guides would often keep him moving at a very fast pace, which made missing crucial moments all that much easier. “I had the be present to the moment all the time,” says Röder. “If I saw something interesting, it was almost already too late to take a shot.”

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Since his entire visit was planned by the North Korean government, he was concerned that he might end up having some of his photos deleted at the end of the visit, and he was right. At one point, one of the guides looked through his images and had him delete random ones for no reason at all.

Fortunately, he had planned for this ahead of time. When he came into the country, he brought a solid state hard drive with him, telling the guards at the security gates that it was an MP3 player. The drive was equipped with a memory card slot, so he was able to back up his photos and wound up arriving back in Sweden with every one of his shots.

“I had to take my own risks to do something outside the box,” explains Röder. “[And] I’m very glad I did, since otherwise I wouldn’t have ended up with the types of images that I wanted.”

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Because he took that risk, he did wind up capturing the kinds of images he wanted. Photos that show the people of North Korea going about their lives … lives that are much the same for them as they are for people in other parts of the world.

To see more of Röder’s photos from his trip, or follow him as he continues taking street photos back in Sweden, be sure to follow him on Instagram by clicking here.


Image credits: Photographs by Simon Röder and used with permission.


 
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  • Procentje20

    Taking a risk. Wow. That will get you executed in the DPRK. So, with this box ticked. Next challenge will be to pull of this trick while straying off the goverment planned route.

  • kakaroth

    Nex FF!

  • http://reciprocity-failure.blogspot.com/ Stan B.

    Congrats, on your incentive and unique accomplishment! The East-West restrictions really encapsulate the insanity of the prevalent mindset.

  • stefan

    overrated but many thumbs up for the effort.

    there are many good photographed series on DPRK some dating from over more than 20 years ago. same king of images, better technique and framing. you can find them all over the Internet and even in bookshops.

    this guy did a good job but his photos are sadly the same ones that all the tourists in DPRK bring back home. it’s not that hard to visit the country, if you have the money you will follow the same tour that everybody takes and come back exactly with the same images.
    there are some exceptions, like that film crew that followed a Nepalese doctor who was touring the country. forgot the name of the crew, they should be easy to find via google.

  • http://www.eriklaurikulo.se/ Erik Lauri Kulo

    Every day life, where? I don’t want to be harsh. But this are just pictures from the government-sanctioned guide that you get when you visit the country.

  • Carl Meyer

    Spare us the faux outrage, people don’t want to see the mundane every day life of North Koreans they want morbid stories that match their idea of how horrible it’s that hell hole and it’s brainwashed people.

  • Mike

    Go look at photos from soviet russia, nothing new with NK. NK is a “repost”.

  • Bob

    But it is a morbid hell hole? Perhaps ignore the stories from other people then and just take a look at the satellite imagery of N. Korea and notice that it is devoid of lights at night except for Pyongyang.

    That’s 24 million people packed into a tiny peninsula with no electricity from sunset to sunrise (I don’t mention daylight hours because you want “hard” facts and my proof doesn’t prove conclusively that they don’t have electricity during the day).

  • Rabi Abonour

    Yeah. I give this guy huge props for trying to show everyday life in North Korea, but unfortunately that is simply not possible. He took photos while being led around by a government guide, which plenty of others have done.

  • Andrew

    The people of N.Korea are not like you and I… They are people of a brainwashed nation. That or severely impoverished. Cool photos though, what an amazing opportunity.

  • Norshan Nusi

    Shoot only to the west, but not east?

    Feng shui? XD

  • Marko

    Sorry to burst the bubble but there is nothing extraordinary to these images. Although there is a posibility of going on variety of different trips now and different regions this trip looks like mainly Pyongyang, ie exhibition, subway, main square , few streets etc. also, contrary to some beliefs, mainly due to trumped out effort by governments and media, it is not hard to go to DPRK. It is also not that expensive, 1000euros for 6 days. I have been twice with youngpioneertours

  • Dmitry

    Hah, like you aren’t brainwashed in a different way. We all are in a certain way. Some more, some less. And having grown up in the Soviet Union, I am not much different to anybody else in the West. Maybe even more educated!

  • Carl Meyer

    I’m going to repeat myself, people don’t want stories that show just another country filled with people that live their lives as better as they can like everyone else does they want to read stories about how miserable and brainwashed North Koreans are and how disturbing it’s the place because that’s what they expect and everything else that don’t match their prejudices is rendered as propaganda without hesitation.

  • Hello, I love you

    They’re good for a twenty year old, much better than the one’s you’ve taken there.

  • Hello, I love you

    ones

  • Hello, I love you

    Learn more about the world before you open your mouth <3 thank you dmitrey.

  • Hello, I love you

    Blah blah.

  • Hello, I love you

    Um, you’re welcome to do that. Annnnnd a no.

  • risky

    This photog took the risk to avoid deleting photos against a government’s wishes. That’s why you should never let a random person in your street photography to persuade you delete a photo!

  • 9inchnail

    No, it’s a reboot. Same theme and story but with new actors.

  • 9inchnail

    Because you’ve seen his photos and are clearly in a position to judge, right?

  • 9inchnail

    If you photograph a person without their permission, they can’t force you to delete it but they can call the police on your ass. At least in Germany. Better to just delete the damn photo.

  • Teslanedison

    It’s complicated, as I understand it if the person is in public and working with the pubic, and you are shooting for a news story, the photography is protected to some degree as an expression of free speech. This breaks down at the line of minors, because kids are not specifically consenting to being in public so a release should always be acquired if kids are in the shot. Shooting pictures of private situations on private land without permission might land you in jail.
    I don’t imagine the photog got out of country with any pictures that were not approved.