In stunning new photos, North Korea comes to life through the lenses of Getty Images photographer Xiaolu Chu, and AP Images photographer David Guttenfelder. North Korea is notoriously secretive and works very hard to censor the images captured by international photographers who visit the "Hermit Kingdom" – in hopes of keeping the eyes of the world out of the real lives of North Koreans, lives characterized by "abject poverty" and malnutrition.
Today, though, two photographers in two different photo sets, released to Tech Insider and Vice News respectively, bring us a glimpse into the grim lives of the North Korean people. Traveling through North Korea, back in August, Getty Images photographer Xiaolu Chu opted to keep most of her images hidden from North Korean authorities by using her smartphone to clandestinely capture images of life in North Korea, images the North Korean government fights hard to censor.Speaking to Tech Insider, Xiaolu Chu said that sometimes using her big DSLR camera would attract too much attention, and local villagers throughout North Korea would report him to police. North Korean police would then delete the images. So, Chu opted to use her smartphone, which was much more discreet, though now and then North Korean authorities would catch him and delete some photos. He kept others hidden inside the smart phone's file system.
As Chu traveled through North Korea by train, escorted as always by a member of the North Korean police, her train was halted between the North Korean cities of Tumangang and Pyongyang, and Chu had the whole day to explore the local North Korean villages.
"Fortunately, we had a whole day to go out and take some pictures in the village," Chu told Tech Insider today about her trip to North Korea.
Exploring the village Chu saw the real North Korea, a place of poverty, scarcity, paranoia and fear. Villagers were "very vigilant" and would report him to police if they saw him use her camera, and even using her smartphone, some villagers reported him to the North Korean police anyway."A policeman and a soldier stopped us and checked our cell phone, I hid most of the pictures but a few were deleted," Chu told Tech Insider this morning, discussing her recent trip to North Korea.
At night, Chu says, the countryside is blanketed in darkness. North Korea is well-known for its failing power grid, which only allows certain buildings to be lit up at night, and according to Chu, the only buildings North Koreans in the countryside will illuminate are their shrines to Kim Il-Sung, and Kim Jong-Il. Among the painful reminders of how horrifying life in North Korea can be, Chu frequently saw half-starved children begging for money, emaciated elderly men and women, and a generally poor standard of life for all people living in North Korea – particularly in rural areas.
"There are almost no fat people in North Korea," Chu told Tech Insider.
AP Images photographer, David Guttenfelder had similar experiences, and his photo series released to Vice News today, shows a remarkably empty North Korea – a place where people live in fear, in poverty, and oftentimes without basic utilities.
In a photo Guttenfelder shot in North Korea, back in 2012, he catches a young woman reading under bright streetlights in the middle of the night.
Tech Insider, discussing the trip to North Korea, and the security measures Chu had to take in order to smuggle her photos out of the country, asked if Chu was afraid of reprisal from North Korea. Chu's response was simple, and to the point.
"No, absolutely not," said Xiaolu Chu, discussing her trip to North Korea.
[Photo by Xiaolu Chu/Getty Images]