North Korea in Hideous Distortion


Never before or since my short trip to North Korea have I felt so perplexed about the realities of a country. It’s easy to know certain things: it’s a hermit nation, it’s citizens have little to no access to the outside world, it’s been run by a family of despots since the end of the Korean War, and it seemingly revels in its own bad behavior, taunting the world but stopping just short of biting the hands that feed it. But like all things worth exploring, what’s on the surface can be a very shallow reflection of the place as a whole.

During my few days in country, I met some of the nicest, most intelligent people I’ve ever had the pleasure of speaking with. North Koreans, born and raised. They would talk to me about the US’s foreign policies, about Vietnam’s peculiar brand of communism, and about many other things, but they would never talk about their own country. Except to say how great their Dear & Great Leaders were, or to proclaim how they wanted for nothing in North Korea. Which, well. Obviously. It made for a perplexing read on things. Lines were blurred from the start. I would see the same people over and over again. The man in the park was also the man in the museum. That family over there was having a picnic in the woods the day before. Maybe. I think. I don’t know. In a nation where every piece of reality seems fabricated, where is the final line drawn?

So that’s what I tried to show in the photographs I took. An unreal reality. A constant fog over the eyes. Blurred edges. Shadowy figures. A constant kind of questioning. But even now, so far removed from it, I have no idea what I really saw.


57 thoughts on “North Korea in Hideous Distortion”

  1. It’s a wonderful document, something romantic about the vague and the blurred notions of identity. Thanks for sharing this unique view.

  2. “I have no idea of what I really saw”… That is the perfect description of the DPRK, I walked out of there with similar feelings and you have aptly put them down in this post.

  3. …just read a piece which spoke of the ‘single story’, how one version of a people, place.thing gets so over done, we start to believe the place and especially the people can’t possibly be, do,or have any other dimensions to them. a dangerous and sometimes sad proposition. thank you for your post!

  4. I’ve got to say North Korea has a soft spot. I even write about it because it’s so regressive and that fascinates me what piques my interest even more is the people and the stories they have. As a writer I know it’s an untapped goldmine of stories. I love your pictures and what it captures. Good job.

  5. You saw fear, terror and repression on a huge scale. That is what you saw.

    It is the one place in the world I could never go. Why? Because I am sure the people are wonderful but it would be too disturbing; knowing the truth.

    It doesn’t mean it isn’t right to go. It is just for me .. I couldn’t.

  6. FABRICATED. That is the perfect word. That’s how it looks on the pictures too. My friend – a journalist – went to Pyongyang and said he couldn’t get any photos because he got his “guards” (they call them “guides”) the minute he landed in NK. They followed him even to the bathroom. It was at the time of Kim Jong – il ‘s leadership. Your article is very informative for people who also want to discover more about North Korea and the actual situation. Keep up the great work.

  7. As somebody else commented its not a destination many of us will probably ever get to see so you where very lucky thanks for sharing this with us all..

  8. Beautiful and disturbing photography, with spot-on clarity about the strange phenomenon which is North Korea. We all create our own realities to a small extent but it is NK’s primary national enterprise to create a separate reality for themselves and for others as well. Great insights on the whole thing, and a perspective that is entirely new to me.

  9. It’s nice to hear a “normal” person’s point of view on North Korea. Documentaries, news articles, etc, all seem to portray the same image, but what you show is somehow different. I think that your photographs support your narrative and make it real, yet somehow vaguely romantic.

  10. Elegant way with words. Having lived in South Korea not too far from the DMZ, I will say your words ring absolutely true. Thank you for capturing the experience realistically.

  11. When and how were you in North Korea and what were your feelings on the place? I’d like to hear more about your experience.

  12. I love the photography. It really embodies the sense of the country. I too, would like to know what is really going on in NK.

  13. A fascinating gallery! And very evocative of how the rest of the world perceives the country.

  14. beautiful pictures, somehow they convey the blurred feeling of traveller , never sure how much what you see comes from the place or is already inside yourself and how delicate work is to try to grasp the images and sensations that traverse us when traveling

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