Fascinating Photos Show Current Life Inside North Korea


The winners in the professional competition of the 2013 Sony World Photography Awards were just announced and they include a photographer who took some fascinating photos of modern life in North Korea. Under the Current Affairs category, the winner was Moscow, Russia-born Ilya Pitalev, a photographer who works for RIA Novosti, a Russian and international news agency.

In 2012, North Korea celebrated the centennial birthday of the state’s founder, and in doing so opened its doors, albeit for a few days, to a select group of international photographers. As Pitalev told Sony, “It was very important for North Korean regime to show celebrations to the whole world.”

You can read about his experience over on Sony's website. Here's one of the most interesting and thought-provoking questions (and answers):

Your images have an unassuming presence and reveal a rare glimpse into the personalities of the people of North Korea. What did you hope to achieve with this series of work?

“It was very difficult to have any plan, idea or concept while taking pictures in North Korea. I work for the biggest information agency in Russia and, by definition, should get the very essence of every event. And I wanted to say that people in North Korea exist in their own separate world, difficult for understanding from outside the country. This is the society which lives with faith in communism and their leaders. The shops are empty, people suffer. They cannot imagine that the world might be different.”

“How do they live, can they be happy, what life means to them – these are the questions I kept asking myself. I still do not have definite answers and hope to get there again to clarify my uncertainty.”

Below are some of the most eye-opening shots from Pitalev's trip to North Korea. Aside from all the uniformity, notice the facial expressions.

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Ilya Pitalev's website

Jessica Stewart

Jessica Stewart is a Contributing Writer and Digital Media Specialist for My Modern Met, as well as a curator and art historian. Since 2020, she is also one of the co-hosts of the My Modern Met Top Artist Podcast. She earned her MA in Renaissance Studies from University College London and now lives in Rome, Italy. She cultivated expertise in street art which led to the purchase of her photographic archive by the Treccani Italian Encyclopedia in 2014. When she’s not spending time with her three dogs, she also manages the studio of a successful street artist. In 2013, she authored the book 'Street Art Stories Roma' and most recently contributed to 'Crossroads: A Glimpse Into the Life of Alice Pasquini'. You can follow her adventures online at @romephotoblog.
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