Galma beach, in North Korea. The 360° version is available here.
A Singaporean photographer has offered up one of the most unique glimpses yet of life inside North Korea. He's done it by capturing hidden corners of the country in a series of 360° photographs. And what's more, the country's authorities don't seem to have a problem with it.
Last autumn, Aram Pan, originally from Singapore, was authorised to travel to North Korea. Once inside the country, he stitched together several photos of the same places to create unique 360° images, allowing people to navigate virtually anywhere inside the picture. Enthusiasts of the project are already comparing 'DPRK 360' [the name of Aram Pan's photography project. The initials DPRK stand for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea] to a North Korean version of Google street view. The photographer explains on his site that his work doesn't seek to tackle politically sensitive subjects, but rather encourages the public to interest themselves in the country and 'uncover its mysteries'.
His work shows that despite the draconian restrictions which stifle freedom of expression in North Korea, there is still a certain degree of coverage tolerated -- so long as it's not political.
"Many may think my images will never fully convey the true North Korean experience, but there simply isn’t any other way unless you plan to go there yourself"
I’ve come to know some North Koreans personally, such as those who were in the country with me and those who travel and work abroad. Of course, I'm unable to easily contact those who are inside the country, but I often meet up and message those who are overseas. We meet to have meals and discuss everything. Those who I meet regularly are just average citizens working their assigned duties outside of the country. They live in modest homes, have quiet lives, and their children study in regular schools.Getting authorization to visit wasn’t complicated at all. Lately, travel there has been relaxed and there are already hundreds of tourists from Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand that visit North Korea. Malaysian citizens do not even need a visa application. When I was there, I saw an entire delegation of Malaysians touring the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun [the former residence of Kim Il-sung, the founder of North Korea].
I was only restricted from photographing military personnel, equipment and facilities [North Korea is the most militarised country in the world in proportion to the size of its population]. Other than that, they didn’t bother about what I photographed. I was even allowed to detour off the regular route to stop by a beach. If there was time, I was also allowed to roam the streets with my tour guides, walking among the people [tourists are generally accompanied by 'guides' tasked with keeping an eye on them].
Mangyongdae Childrens Palace gathers the country's most talented children to practice various disciplines.
"For the first trip, I decided to target specifically spots that are sources of national pride"
The ultimate goal of my project is to really dive into the heart of North Korea and photograph the people’s everyday lives. However, one does not candidly request for such access without first proving one’s sincerity. If all goes well, this is the first of many trips to come. For the first trip, I decided to target specifically spots that are sources of national pride. These are mainly monuments and parks that are included in standard tours. I’m currently awaiting the official 'OK' from Pyongyang for a second trip. During such a trip I would be focusing on the more 'intimate' parts of North Korea, places that aren't on your standard tour.
Puhong metro station is the terminus of the Chollima line, opened in April 1987.
"What I personally feel during my stay there is that there is a sense that 'life goes on'"
I can easily sum up the common image of North Korea circulating on the internet: President Kim Jong-un, soldiers, military vehicles, Jang Song-thaek [North Korean leader's uncle who was accused of being a traitor and executed in December], and even Dennis Rodman. We are so caught up with all the current issues that we forget that North Korea is a lot more than that. If North Korea is to be one day integrated into the world economy, then it is my opinion that more should be known about the country than just the political issues. Specifically through the use of interactive 360 degree panoramas, I’m hoping to convey a sense of 'being there'. I know many may think my images will never fully convey the true North Korean experience, but there simply isn’t any other way unless you plan to go there yourself.
What I personally feel during my stay there is that there is a sense of 'life goes on'. Most, if not all of the regular folks aren’t aware of the world’s view of their country. They are now more concerned about everyday things like buying the latest North Korean smart phone and having that cool beer at the end of a hard day’s work.