Renowned documentary photographer Tomas van Houtryve entered North Korea by posing as a businessman looking to open a chocolate factory. Despite 24-hour surveillance by North Korean minders, he took arresting photographs of Pyongyang and its people—images rarely captured and even more rarely distributed in the West. They show stark glimmers of everyday life in the world’s last gulag.Speaking of Communism and how it works out so well…
In van Houtryve’s hotel room, propaganda played in an endless loop on the three TV channels. North Korean biographers, striving to make Kim his more revered father’s equal, insist a swallow foretold his birth and attribute a spate of superhuman characteristics to him – the ability to manipulate time among them. Defectors have described him as arthritic and illiterate.
Posing as a businessman looking to open a chocolate factory, documentary photographer Tomas van Houtryve visited North Korea. Despite 24-hour surveillance and the pointed reticence of North Koreans, he managed to take some photographs.
SHOP GIRL: This is shopping in North Korea. The clerk sits in the dark, unheated special store, waiting to turn on the lights for foreigners, the only permitted customers. “She’s wearing a ski jacket or parka; the rest of this time they’re sitting there with the lights off, freezing,” van Houtryve says. The goods—toys, televisions, and the like—are imported from China. The store only accepts euros.
UNEASY STREET: Van Houtryve arrived in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, during a normal work week in February. He found its main thoroughfare entirely empty. “Nobody’s out. No couples with babies, nobody taking a walk,” van Houtryve says. “You could wait 10 minutes before you ever saw a car.” Only a few old Mercedes—the exclusive privilege of top bureaucrats—cruise Pyongyang’s streets. North Korea has just a few hundred thousand cars for more than 20 million people. The country has only 1,000 miles of paved road.
EMERGENCY CAPITALISM: Two women work on an assembly line, packaging shirts by the American brand K-Swiss. “I imagine it’s illegal,” van Houtryve says. In Kaesong, the special economic zone on the southern border, South Korean companies hire North Korean workers at wages of $50 a month. The North Korean government allowed the zone’s creation after its near economic collapse and failure to prevent mass famine in the 1990s.
CULT OF PERSONALITY: In van Houtryve’s hotel room, propaganda played in an endless loop on the three TV channels. North Korean biographers, striving to make Kim his more revered father’s equal, insist a swallow foretold his birth and attribute a spate of superhuman characteristics to him—the ability to manipulate time among them. Defectors have described him as arthritic and illiterate.
Hat tip to the Sleuth who found this remarkable article, David Thompson’s Blog article on Marxism.