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AP PHOTOS: A photo journey through N.Korea

Published on NewsOK Modified: December 21, 2012 at 1:44 am •  Published: December 21, 2012

Last spring, as North Korea was preparing for the 100th birthday of its late founder, Kim Il Sung, citizens practiced for weeks, even months, for the large-scale military parade and public folk dancing that was part of the celebration.

One morning, on our way through town, we saw small groups of performers walking home from an early rehearsal. They wore their brightly colored traditional clothing, but covered over with warm winter coats. In their hands were the red bunches of artificial flowers that they shake and wave in honor of country's leaders during mass rallies.

From the van window, I saw a woman standing alone, holding her bouquet as she waited for the bus. It was, to me, a more telling moment than the actual events we would cover a week later, a simple but provocative glimpse into one person's life.

For this project, I used a Hasselblad XPAN, a panoramic-view film camera that is no longer manufactured. Throughout the year, I wore it around my neck and shot several dozen rolls of color negative film in between my normal coverage of news and daily life with my AP-issued digital cameras.

The XPAN is quiet, discrete, manual and simple. Because it has a wide panoramic format, it literally gives me a different view of North Korea. The film also reflects how I feel when I'm in North Korea, wandering among the muted or gritty colors, and the fashions and styles that often seem to come from a past generation. 

In my photography, I try to maintain a personal point of view, a critical eye, and shoot with a style that I think of as sometimes-whimsical and sometimes-melancholy. My aim is to open a window for the world on a place that is widely misunderstood and that would otherwise rarely be seen by outsiders.

I hope these images help people to develop their own understanding of the country, one that goes beyond the point-counterpoint presented by Pyongyang and Washington. And maybe they can help create some sort of bridge between the people of North Korea and the rest of the world.



Award-winning photographer David Guttenfelder is AP's chief photographer for Asia. He is based in Tokyo but makes frequent trips to North Korea to run AP's photo operations there.