This website is no longer actively maintained
Some material and features may be unavailable

VII Magazine: North Korea: Secrets and lies

With the death of Kim Jong-il, VII Magazine takes another look at North Korea through the eyes of photographer Tomas van Houtryve.

The Kim regime has vanquished any traces of capitalism, foreign imperialism, and the enemies — real and imagined — of the radical left. Even as communism collapsed elsewhere and more than a million people died of starvation in the 1990s, the government did not waver from its course. The result is a paranoid and militarized society, an astounding cult of personality and the formal absence of any individualism.

Today, much of what is said about North Korea is based more on speculation than first-hand reporting. Posing as an investor looking to open a chocolate factory, Tomas van Houtryve managed to slip into North Korea twice. He faced hours of interrogation, was threatened by appartchiks, and at one point was almost exposed as a journalist. These bold tactics gave him access to factories, hospitals and government offices, some of which had never before been seen by a Western photographer.

The music in this story is called “The Unforgettable Top Of Mount Osung” and is recorded by The Korean People’s Army Merited Chorus.

View the photos at VII Magazine.

Need to Know presents VII Magazine, a journalistic partnership with VII Photo, which offers our readers unprecedented intimate access to the work of the world’s leading photojournalists. Every day, our partners at VII showcase a new photo, and each week, a new video or audio slideshow.