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Inside North Korea
As our bus started to trundle across the bridge over the Yalu River, which separates China and North Korea, the reality of what I was about to do suddenly dawned on me. Fresh off the back of the story of Euna Lee and Laura Lin, American journalists who were caught crossing the China-North Korea border, sentenced to over 10 years in a labor camp and then subsequently ‘rescued’ by Bill Clinton, I was suddenly rather nervous. I was about to enter the most closed nation on earth, posing as a tourist, accompanied by a journalist (also posing as a tourist) and with a shiny professional DSLR in my bag.
Would Bill (or should that be Tony Blair) come and rescue me if something went wrong?!
Pulling up to the North Korean side of the bridge, armed guards were the first sight we glimpsed of North Koreans up close. With an obvious seriousness, they checked our bags thoroughly, especially those of the two ‘foreigners’ who had just entered with a bus load of Chinese tourists. After a nervous minute when a guard looked very quizzically at my camera lens, muttered some Korean to his fellow soldiers and then handed it back to me, it appeared we were okay. We were “Inside North Korea”.
I spent the next 4 days on-assignment with the Globe & Mail’s Mark MacKinnon, being whizzed around the country on an organized tour, shadowed at all times by two minders, gaining an insight into this rarely visited place. What we were shown was the North Korea that the government wanted us to see. However, by looking through the cracks and reading between the lines of what we saw, we were able to get glimpses at life in the “Hermit Kingdom”.
This collection of images is just a snapshot of North Korea, collected from this whirlwind tour. I hope however that the images offer some clues and small insights into life in this strange and mysterious country. For me, these images actually raise more questions than answers.
If you are interested to see more images and/or see the short videos we recorded from our trip, please visit
Sean Gallagher is a British photographer, currently based in China. His most recent work has specialized on social and environmental issues in Asia, with specific emphasis on China. He was the first recipient of the David Alan Harvey Fund for Emerging Photographers in 2008. In 2009, he received a travel grant from the Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting. His work has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, The Ecologist, The Globe & Mail, Die Zeit and with the BBC.
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Many thanks… david alan harvey