North Korea: Images from above the 38th parallel


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The Independent Online

These eerie pictures from North Korea were taken by photographer David Guttenfelder. He describes what it is like to capture life inside the world's most secretive country.

My window on North Korea is sometimes, quite literally, a window – of a hotel room, a car, a train. In April, I travelled to the launch site for this year's first failed rocket test. I have made 17 trips into North Korea since 2000. It is endlessly fascinating and surreal, but it is also one of the hardest countries I have photographed. Foreigners are almost always accompanied by a government guide who helps facilitate coverage requests, but also monitors what we do.

Over time, there have been more opportunities to leave Pyongyang. But people are usually wary of foreigners and aware they too are being watched. This has been a historic year for North Korea, with large-scale dramatic displays to mark important milestones, struggles with food shortages, crippling floods, drought and typhoons. But in a country that carefully choreographs what it shows to the world, separating what is real from the what is part of the show is hard.