Pyongyang is North Korea, North Korea is Pyongyang

In recent months Jean Lee, bureau chief for the AP in Korea, and David Guttenfelder, AP’s chief photographer in North Korea, have been allowed a small luxury no North Korean citizen has ever had before; the ability to upload to Instagram. Koryolink, a joint venture between an Egyptian and North Korean state-owned telecom, recently activated a 3G mobile network within the hermit kingdom’s borders. Since then, Lee and Guttenfelder have been embarking on what could only be called a photo-junkies wet dream, instagramming and tweeting up a storm from deep within the reclusive country. What they’ve returned are quick snippets, either photos or fifteen second videos, of life in a country which fully embraces isolationism and the personality cult of the Kim Dynasty. However, there is a flip side to this unfiltered access, a kind of sensationalist streak that has run through the reporting on these photos.

Guttenfelder’s short, unedited videos provide an interesting and unique look at life inside North Korea for the outside world.

…every little glimpse we get behind the curtain is thrilling. The mundane is illuminating, and the most uneventful scene appears packed with suspense.

However, the first Instagram videos coming out of the country offer unfiltered peeks into what many call the “Hermit Kingdom”.

As Guttenfelder himself puts it,

“There are so many curious, strangely beautiful, or melancholy details around us here…These might not be typical of the news photos I usually transmit, but they offer fleeting glimpses of this country, and how it feels to be here.”

These are normal sentiments to have. In a world where unrestricted access to global content is ubiquitous, we clamor for any and all imagery that is denied from us; Gore, death, porn, North Korea. This post is no different. Below you’ll find a number of different photos and videos from both accounts that are particularly interesting and note-worthy, and do offer some insight into the regular day-to-day of Pyongyang. But while for many these photos raise the unsettling question of “How can these people live in such an authoritarian state”, the more hidden and unsettling question one should understand is “How much of this work inadvertently perpetuates the vision and myths of North Korea that that same authoritarian state wants us to see? How much does this “unrestricted” access contribute to a kind of global bystander effect?”

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