Fabian Muir

2014 - 2015

North Korea

This is a selection of the many images collected during a survey of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea) that spanned two years. Working within the constraints placed upon visitors there, the series seeks to offer a fair, honest and intimate portrayal of the country and its people.

The problem with much of the material we see on North Korea is that it is too Pyongyang-heavy, often done by photographers who have been there only once. Yet the capital is not at all representative of the country at large; any body of work fixated on Pyongyang is almost necessarily doomed to depict monumental architecture, the famed metro and parades, providing nothing new and minimal insight into what life in greater North Korea might really be like.

At the same time, certain photographers have been unable to resist a narrative that emphasises their own “heroics” in having “smuggled" images out of Pyongyang. This type of project makes the story as much about themselves as the subject. Yet the reality is that only images of soldiers/construction workers are deemed illegal and one’s camera is never checked when leaving the country.

All this has resulted in an often skewed and clichéd understanding of the place. Specifically for this reason, the images presented here were taken in all corners of the country.

To be fair, photography there is not easy, yet it is possible to see and experience a great deal. Over the course of many trips, I captured images that not only confirm some of the popular clichés—such as the near omnipresence of the Leaders—but also show a lesser-known and more intimate North Korea.

There are so many levels to North Korea that to throw everything in with the politics, as much of the mainstream media do, is far too simplistic. It is hoped that this series digs a little deeper and will take the viewer on a short but interesting journey through the DPRK, opening up some unexpected perspectives.

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  • Infants in Nampo orphanage

  • A waitress places an artificial light source on a table during a power failure in Chongjin

  • A farmer in rural North Korea in May 2015.

  • People on a railway platform in provincial North Korea

  • Commuters in the Pyongyang metro

  • A child sings during a kindergarten performance in Chongjin

  • A man exits the changing rooms at a beach near Wonsan

  • Beach scene near Wonsan

  • Women tend the gardens of the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun, Pyongyang

  • Students during a mass dance on Kim Il-sung Square, Pyongyang

  • Munsu Water Park, Pyongyang.

  • Children the the school playground of a cooperative farm in rural North Korea

  • Newlyweds outside Pyongyang Folk Park

  • Villagers haul a boat over wooden rollers in Outer Chilbo

  • Fishermen on ice near Sinuiju

  • Bowling alley, Pyongyang

  • Rural road on a winter's day

  • Locals enjoy a picnic, Pyongyang

  • Schoolchildren on an outing in Hamhung

  • Performers wait their turn offstage during May Day celebrations

  • Young boy in a Pyongyang health complex

  • Locals pay their respects at the Mansudae Grand Monument, Pyongyang

  • Classroom in Chongjin

  • Wedding party in North Hamgyong province

  • Locals prepare for lift-off, Pyongyang

  • Schoolgirl, Pyongyang

  • Siesta, Hamhung

  • Soldiers celebrate the anniversary of the foundation of the Workers' Party atop a mobile rocket launcher

  • Fast food, Pyongyang