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51 Secretly Taken Illegal Photos Of North Korea Reveal Its Residents’ True Way Of Life

From careful selection processes to strict rules during the stay, North Korea doesn’t seem too welcoming for tourists. There’s also no surprise that the country that strives to maintain the image they’ve been creating themselves for decades now, keep an eye on what the visitors from abroad capture with their cameras. Travel photographer Eric Lafforgue, however, managed to outsmart the government officials, smuggle out some of the ‘forbidden’ pictures, and share them with the rest of the world.

From 2008 to 2012 the photographer has visited North Korea 6 times. “As soon as they were opening a new area to visit I tried to go and see it, documenting the place,” Lafforgue shared his enthusiasm for the country shrouded in mystery. Amongst the usual photos of the regime in North Korea, he also was able to capture thousands of ‘forbidden’ pictures that, thanks to digital memory cards, he was able to keep. “They didn’t allow me to take pictures of the police, the army, etc. But with a 300mm zoom lens and a seat in the back of the bus, I could take so many…” And so he did.

Soon, pictures of soldiers and locals going about their day-to-day lives started appearing in the media. North Korea didn’t let this slide – the government demanded for the pictures to be taken down. “I refused as I show all the aspects of North Korea: the good and the bad. Just like I do with any country I visit. I refused to make an exception for North Korea and they didn’t like this.” That is why in 2012 the photographer was forbidden from entering the country ever again.

While being the author of pictures that shouldn’t even exist is quite an achievement, Lafforgue says that getting to know the people living there is what really made it all worthwhile. “During homestay meals in the countryside, I could speak with the locals for hours, thanks to my guides. They told me so much about how they live, what they dream of, and so on. The main thing to know is that North Koreans are warm people, very curious about the visitors and very generous, even though most of them own nearly nothing.”

Scroll down to see the illegally taken pictures, and if you’re curious to see more of this Eric Lafforgue’s work, check out our other post about his traveling adventures here.

More info: ericlafforgue.com | Instagram (h/t)

#1 A Woman Standing In The Middle Of A Crowd Of Soldiers. This Picture Is Not Supposed To Be Taken As Officials Do Not Allow Army Pictures

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#2 When You Visit Families, The Guides Love It If You Take Pics To Show The World That Kids Have Computers. But When They See There Is No Electricity, Then They Ask You To Delete!

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#3 Soldiers Often Help On Local Farms

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#4 This Kind Of Picture Is Widespread In The West. The Caption Often Explains That North Koreans Eat Grass From The Park. The Guides Get Furious If You Take It

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#5 A Rare Example Of An Undisciplined Kid In North Korea. The Bus Was Driving In The Small Roads Of Samijyon In The North, When This Kid Stood In The Middle Of The Road

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#6 The Way You Dress Is Very Important In North Korea. In Town, You’ll Never Find Anybody Dressed Poorly. On This Day, Students Were Dancing In A Park. When I Asked To Take A Picture, The Girl Asked The Man To Straighten His Shirt

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#7 As Cars Have Become More Widespread In Pyongyang, The Peasants Are Still Getting Accustomed To Seeing Them. Kids Play In The Middle Of The Main Avenues Just Like Before When There Were No Cars In Sight

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#8 Perhaps The Most Ridiculous Prohibition I Faced: This Official Painter Was Working On A New Mural In Chilbo. I Took The Picture, And Everybody Started Yelling At Me. Since The Painting Was Unfinished, I Couldn’t Take The Picture

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#9 Pyongyang’s Subway System Is The Deepest In The World As It Doubles As A Bomb Shelter. Someone Saw Me Taking This Picture And Told Me To Delete It Since It Included The Tunnel

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#10 It Is Forbidden To Photograph Malnutrition

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#11 Never Take A Picture Where You Can See People Doing Silly Things In Front Of The Kim Portraits

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#12 It Is Forbidden To Take Pictures Of Soldiers Relaxing

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#13 When You Sleep In Kaesong, Near The Dmz, You Are Locked In An Hotel Complex Composed Of Old Houses. It Allows The Guides To Say “Why Do You Want To Go Outside? It’s The Same As In The Hotel.” No, It’s Not

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#14 When Visiting The Delphinium In Pyongyang, You Can Photograph The Animals, But Not The Soldiers Who Make Up 99% Of The Crowd

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#15 Queueing Is A National Sport For North Koreans

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#16 On A Little Lake On The Way To Wonsan, This Fisherman Uses A Tire As A Boat

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#17 In A Christian Church, This Official Was Dozing Off On A Bench. You Must Never Show The Officials In A Bad Light

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#18 The Pionners Camp Of Wonsan Is Often Visited By Tourists To Show The Youth From All Over The Country Having Fun. But Some Children Come From The Countryside And Are Afraid To Use The Escalators Which They’ve Never Seen Before

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#19 A Visit To A Rural Home. Those Houses And The Families Who Live There Are Carefully Selected By The Government. But Sometimes, A Detail Like A Bathroom Used As A Cistern Shows That Times Are Hard…

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#20 This Soldier Was Sleeping In A Field

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#21 The North Korean Officials Hate When You Take This Kind Of Picture. Even When I Explain That Poverty Exists All Around The World, In My Own Country As Well, They Forbid Me From Taking Pictures Of The Poor

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#22 One Night, On The Way Back To The Hotel My Bus Had To Take An Alternate Route Due To Street Closures. As We Passed By Old Buildings, The Guides Asked Me Not To Shoot With Flash. The Official Reason Was “To Avoid Scaring People”

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#23 Only In North Korea: I Was At A Factory Shooting With My Tv Crew. We Were Followed By A Local Cameraman Who Filmed Throughout The Trip (On The Right). On This Day, The Government Sent Another Cameraman To Film Us All! Very Meta

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#24 It’s Not A Circus, They Are Workers In A Country With Low Safety Standards

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#25 You Can Find All Kinds Of Food And Drinkin Pyongyang’s Two Supermarkets Where Things Are Sold In Both Euros And Wons. They Even Have Evian Water. Only The Elite Can Shop There

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#26 Brand New Restaurants Have Opened Along The Taedong River In The New Center Of Pyongyang. Only The Elite Can Afford To Eat There For The Equivalent Of Few Euros. The Sturgeon I Had Was Actually Very Tasty

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#27 This Man Was Taking A Rest On The Rocks By The Sea In Chilbo. My Guide Asked Me To Delete This For Fear That Western Media Could Say That This Man Was Dead. He Was Alive

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#28 It Is Absolutely Forbidden To Take A Picture Of The Kim Statues From The Back. It Is Considered Very Rude

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#29 Something You Can See Often In North Korea, But Still Forbidden To Photograph

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#30 Paranoia Is Too Strong In North Korean Minds. I Took This Picture At A Fun Fair Of A Tired Mother And Child Resting On A Bench. I Was Asked To Delete The Picture Since The Guides Were Certain I Would Have Said Those People Were Homeless

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#31 When Times Are Hard (As They Usually Are Here), Kids Can Be Found Working For The Farming Collectives

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#32 In The Art Center Of Pyongyang, We Experienced A Power Outage, A Daily Event The North Koreans Hate To Show. When It Happens, They Tell You It’s Because Of The American Embargo

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#33 There Are A Lot Of Tired People Since Many Have To Ride Their Bikes For Hours To Go To Work In The Fields. Taking Pictures Of Them Is Forbidden

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#34 For A Long Time, Bans Against Black Market Sales Have Been Strictly Enforced. Grey Market Vendors Are More Common. They Earn A Little Money Selling Cigarettes Or Sweets

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#35 Public Transportation Connecting The Main Towns Is Nearly Nonexistent. Citizens Need Permits To Go From One Place To Another. On The Highways, You Can Spot Soldiers Hitchhiking

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#36 This Is Never Supposed To Happen: A Broom Standing On The Base Of Kim Il Sung’s Statue In Mansudae, In Pyongyang

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#37 A Very Rare Picture Of A Wheelchair. In Six Trips, I Saw Only Two Of Them

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#38 The Officials Took Issue With This Photo For Two Reasons: 1) The Teen Has His Cap Worn In A Strange Way (According To My Guide), And 2) There Are Soldiers In The Back

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#39 Thousands Of North Koreans On The Day Of The Kimjongilia Festival, Queuing Up To Visit Various Monuments

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#40 Showing Poverty Is Forbidden, But Displaying Wealth Is Also A Big Taboo In North Korea. In A Park On A Sunday Afternoon, I Found This Car That Belongs To One Of Pyongyang’s Elite. The Owners Were Having A Bbq

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#41 Taking Pictures In The Dmz Is Easy, But If You Come Too Close To The Soldiers, They Stop You

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#42 On This Day In Spring, People Had Put Some Carpets To Dry On The Banks Of The Taedong River. Since There Was A Kim Il Sung Statue In The Back, Taking Picture With Those Carpets Was Forbidden

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#43 It Is Forbidden To Take Pictures Of The Daily Life Of The North Korean People If They Are Not Well Dressed. For My Guide This Man Was Not Well Dressed Enough To Be Photographed

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#44 Perfection Is Key To Any Activity In North Korea. Only The Best Of The Best Are Selected To Perform In Front Of A Live Audience. This Acrobat Did 3 Flips For This Feat

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#45 Kids In Begaebong Streets, Collecting Grains

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#46 I Went To Chongjin, A City In The North That Suffered A Lot From Hunger Few Years Ago. My Camera Was Confiscated For The Duration Of The Bus Trip. Once At The Hotel, I Understood Why When I Saw The People In The Street

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#47 Pyongyang Is Supposed To Be The Showcase Of North Korea, So Building Exteriors Are Carefully Maintained. When You Get A Rare Chance To Look Inside, The Bleak Truth Becomes Apparent

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#48 Man Bathing In A River Near His Town

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#49 Every Year, People From The Town Go To The Country To Help Out In Public Projects. On This Day, They Repainted Milestones. Before To Government Regarded Shots Like These As Positive, But Now They Understand That We Can Interpret This As Forced Labor

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#50 Money Is A Taboo Topic Of Conversation In North Korea. It’s Very Difficult To Understand How Much People Earn, The Cost Of Living, Etc… When I Took This Picture Of The Cashier Of The Brand New Fun Fair Counting A Lot Of Money, It Was Not A Good Idea!

Image source: Eric Lafforgue

#51 On The Highways, You Can See Trucks Loaded With Coal, Since North Korea Has Big Problem Getting Oil Like During Ww2

Image source: Eric Lafforgue



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