Photos: A tourist's search for everyday life in North Korea

October 8, 2017, 8:21am

Most outsiders visiting North Korea see only what Kim Jong Un’s regime wants them to see: Pyongyang’s grand parks and squares filled with soldiers and happy, well-fed citizens. But there remains a more hidden side of the Hermit Kingdom, one that is rural, poor, and woefully under-captured.

British photographer Pierre Depont has taken seven trips to North Korea as part of an ongoing attempt to document the lives of “everyday” people from the world’s most reclusive nation.


“The first time I went was from complete curiosity, just to go somewhere off the beaten track, so to speak,” Depont said. “Then I wanted to go back to see some of the countryside, since most tours just hang around Pyongyang.”

Depont traveled the country taking photographs during his latest excursion in early September, and, crucially, he did so as a tourist. Journalists who visit the Hermit Kingdom are closely watched by government “minders” who restrict what they can see and where they can go. Depont said that as a tourist he enjoyed a relative degree of freedom to explore — that is until he left Pyongyang to tour the coastal city of Wonsan and the industrial hub Hamhung in the north.

The capital is home to wealthy elites, who have become even richer as the economy has grown under Kim. But much of the rest of the country is still cripplingly poor, and Depont said his guides were wary of letting him shoot scenes that depicted poverty.

“It’s very hard to actually get a photograph of an authentic rural village,” Depont said. “You can’t just click away from the bus, so to speak.”

The following photographs, some of which were also shared with the website NK News, are the result of Depont’s quest to capture the two sides of North Korea: The gleaming capital and the unvarnished cityscapes that dot the rest of the country.

A Pyongyang traffic monitor. There’s been an increase in traffic lights in recent years with the fast growing rise in vehicles. There are now 6,000 taxis in Pyongyang compared to a few hundred just five years ago.

The dolphin water park in Pyongyang. It costs 10 euros to enter and included seals as well as dolphins.

A barbecue in Wonsan. Koreans love cookouts, which are always accompanied with the alcoholic drink soju.

Fishing nets and crab pots at the pier in Wonsan.

A smiley street vendor tries to pull in some business.

A gas station in Pyongyang.

A shop located at Tongbong cooperative farm near Hamhung.

Kids watching tourists pass near a school in Hamhung.

Students on a field trip to the ancient home of Yi Song-gye, founder and first king of Korea’s Joseon dynasty, on the outskirts of Hamhung.

A wood-fired truck on one of Hamhung’s main roads.

A school playground near Hamhung. North Korean playgrounds often have replica rockets, tanks, or other types of military equipment.

The Tongbong cooperative farm near Hamhung.

Students playing computer games at the recently renovated Songdowon International Children’s Camp in Wonsan.

The skyline of Wonsan.

A diving platform on a public beach in Wonsan. Entry cost two euros.

A fruit and vegetable vendor on a side street in Pyongyang.

Students boarding a subway train in Pyongyang. The ride costs about five cents.

Students in Wonsan line up to march and sing songs about Kim Jong Un.

The war museum in Pyongyang.

(All photos by Pierre Depont. Follow him on Instagram: @pierredepont)