National Geographic : 2013 Oct
I’ve covered global stories where foreign photographers are everywhere. But in North Korea I’m usually the only one. So I feel this responsibility, that if I don’t take a certain picture, it won’t be seen at all. For decades the only pictures we had of the country were propaganda images. So most people think of North Korea as a cardboard facade, where everything is staged and nothing is real. When I first visited in 2000, that’s how I saw it too. But since the Associated Press opened a bureau in Pyongyang in 2012, I’ve visited the country 25 times and taken thousands of images behind the facade. Let me be clear: I’m not allowed to travel freely. I can’t photograph nuclear reactors or prison camps. But my work is not censored. Many of the spectacles I document are staged. But the people are real. I’ve come to see North Koreans as ordinary people, not simply as actors on a geopolitical stage. I want people who see my pictures to make the same journey. In a world where nearly everything has already been photo- graphed, it has become my job to reveal what it’s like inside this closed society. Photographs by David Guttenfelder Morning light shines on a worker and a goldfish tank at the Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang. A video interview with David Guttenfelder can be viewed on our digital editions.