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These Photos Got a Photographer Banned from North Korea

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army

Photographer Éric Lafforgue has spent years traveling the world to shoot documentary photos for well-known publications. He was even given rare access to North Korea, where he shot thousands of photos showing citizens and government officials going about their daily lives.

After his 6th trip to the country in September 2012, however, Lafforgue was banned by the government for the photos he was sharing online.

Lafforgue wanted to show the reality of life in North Korea, so he smuggled unapproved photos out of the communist country on hidden memory cards. An example would be the photo above, which is illegal because North Korea doesn’t allow outsiders to photograph its army.

After the government discovered the photos online, officials confronted Lafforgue and demanded that he delete the images. The photographer refused, and the government responded by banning him from their country.

“Life is brutal in many places of North Korea, far from the Western standard,” Lafforgue told Australia’s News.com.au back in 2014. “Even with their hard life, they told me, with tears in their eyes, they venerate the dear leaders … even if sometimes they do not have a lot to eat.”

Here’s a look at the photos that were deemed too “offensive” by Pyongyang:

You're not supposed to photograph the army -- and especially not soldiers taking a break.
You’re not supposed to photograph the army — and especially not soldiers taking a break.
People pushing a broken down bus -- not a nice photo for a government intend on preserving a pristine image.
People pushing a broken down bus — not a nice photo for a government intend on preserving a pristine image.
The North Korean government doesn't want public photos showing poverty.
The North Korean government doesn’t want public photos showing poverty.
The subway system in Pyongyang is deep underground and doubles as a bomb shelter. Lafforgue was asked to delete this photo because it contains the tunnel.
The subway system in Pyongyang is deep underground and doubles as a bomb shelter. Lafforgue was asked to delete this photo because it contains the tunnel.
Statues of North Korean leaders are treated with respect, as they were considered to be gods, so photos taken from the back are absolutely forbidden.
Statues of North Korean leaders are treated with respect, as they were considered to be gods, so photos taken from the back are absolutely forbidden.
An unflattering photo of a North Korean soldier doing "menial tasks."
An unflattering photo of a North Korean soldier doing “menial tasks.”
Lafforgue was asked to delete this photo because the government was worried he would label the citizens as homeless.
Lafforgue was asked to delete this photo because the government was worried he would label the citizens as homeless.
A power outage at an art space in Pyongyang. Outages happen often, but the government doesn't want that fact publicized.
A power outage at an art space in Pyongyang. Outages happen often, but the government doesn’t want that fact publicized.
A photo of a rural house, where the bathroom was being used as a cistern.
A photo of a rural house, where the bathroom was being used as a cistern.
North Korea doesn't like photos that appear to show its people malnourished.
North Korea doesn’t like photos that appear to show its people malnourished.
Pyongyang is supposed to look grand and modern in photos, so photographing run-down buildings is a big no-no.
Pyongyang is supposed to look grand and modern in photos, so photographing run-down buildings is a big no-no.
A family selling cigarettes and candy on the side of the road.
A family selling cigarettes and candy on the side of the road.
A man in a shallow river.
A man in a shallow river.
Safety standards for workers are minimal.
Safety standards for workers are minimal.
Children in a household posing in front of their computers... while there is no power.
Children in a household posing in front of their computers… while there is no power.
Long lines are found throughout the country.
Long lines are found throughout the country.
When visiting attractions, you can photograph the show, but you're not supposed to photograph the fact that the crowd is 99% soldiers.
When visiting attractions, you can photograph the show, but you’re not supposed to photograph the fact that the crowd is 99% soldiers.
North Korean elite shopping in the two supermarkets in Pyongyang.
North Korean elite shopping in the two supermarkets in Pyongyang.
Soldiers are often seen hitchhiking on the freeways, as there is no public transportation between towns.
Soldiers are often seen hitchhiking on the freeways, as there is no public transportation between towns.
During major festivals, thousands of citizens are required to line up to visit significant monuments.
During major festivals, thousands of citizens are required to line up to visit significant monuments.
Children seen farming in the fields.
Children seen farming in the fields.
An offensive photo of a broom leaning against the statue of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang.
An offensive photo of a broom leaning against the statue of Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang.
A North Korean man harvesting grass from a park -- presumably for food.
A North Korean man harvesting grass from a park — presumably for food.
A North Korean soldier sleeping in a field.
A North Korean soldier sleeping in a field.
Guides ask photographers not to use flash photography in order to avoid scaring people.
Guides ask photographers not to use flash photography in order to avoid scaring people.
Children playing in the middle of a major road.
Children playing in the middle of a major road.

In addition to the photos that got him banned, Lafforgue has captured and published thousands of government-approved photos of North Korea as well. You can find a treasure trove of both types of photos on his website and in this Flickr set, which currently contains over 2,700 photos and 49 videos. They’re some of the most unfiltered images you’ll find online of the reclusive “hermit kingdom.”


Image credits: Photographs by Éric Lafforgue and used with permission

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