In 2011, former AP president Tom Curly had the ambitious idea that the AP should establish a bureau in North Korea, and the photographer the agency ended up sending to the country is a man you should, by now, be very familiar with: David Guttenfelder.
Guttenfelder’s images, both in newspapers and on Instagram, have given the whole world a peek behind North Korea’s own Iron Curtain, and in the video above he explains the power of photography as if pertains to this secretive and isolated world.
It’s hard to overstate the impact Guttenfleder’s work has had, and the importance of the images he sends out of the country. Before the AP sent him, photos from North Korea came almost exclusively from the country’s propaganda-driven news agency.
Now anybody with access to Instagram can head over to @dguttenfelder and take an honest look at what this land and its people are really like.
Of course, it’s not always easy for Guttenfelder — who, incidentally, was named TIME Instagram photographer of the year for his contributions to the photojournalistic community. Everywhere they go must be pre-authorized, and his photos are often taken surreptitiously out of car windows with discreet film cameras.
The AP has yet to meet with Kim Jong Un himself, despite many requests, and they’ve also been denied access inside the country’s uranium enrichment plant. But that doesn’t seem to bother Guttenfelder.
The real purpose, as he describes it, is to help others go through the same transition he went through. From the belief that everything he saw was like the movie “The Truman Show,” staged and pre-planned, to the understanding that there is real life in this place.
“There’s something worth discovering there,” he says in closing. “There’s something worth trying to understand in North Korea.” And each of his photographs brings us one step closer to that understanding.