Instagramming North Korea

The month of February witnessed ever-rising tensions on the Korean peninsula. From test-firing short-range missiles to declaring the 1953 Korean War armistice nullified, North Korea has been under constant watch for possible provocations that may follow its strong remarks. Despite of rising tensions, the world of Instagram has been rather fascinated by unusual pictures taken by David Guttenfelder, the Associate Press Chief Photographer. On his 20th trip to North Korea, North Korea’s mobile phone service provider, Koryolink, announced that it would allow foreigners an access to its 3G network on mobile phones for the first time ever. Guttenfelder took a full advantage of this opportunity and began instagramming pictures of North Korea.


A North Korean popcorn vendor works at a snack bar on the ground floor of a grocery and department store in #Pyongyang.


Painted #Propaganda, showing North Korean children in armed services uniforms attacking U.S., Japanese & SKorean soldiers, hangs in a room inside a #Pyongyang kindergarten.


And a shadow of Juche Tower is cast over the east side of #Pyongyang, #NKorea.

And a shadow of Juche Tower is cast over the east side of #Pyongyang, #NKorea.

This little North Korean dude and his school buddies were playing with one of my cameras this morning at Mansu Hill in #Pyongyang.


For those of you who are not aware, Instagram is an online photo-sharing application that allows its users to take pictures and share them on a variety of social networking services. People usually take pictures of events from their daily lives and that’s exactly what David Guttenfelder did – but in North Korea, perhaps the most isolated country in the world. His pictures included snapshots of street scenes, architecture, propaganda posters and people’s daily lives in Pyongyang. These pictures quickly went viral as Instagram users from all around the world were fascinated by the idea of peeking into a country so unknown and isolated.

These pictures also represent a strikingly different experience for the photographer himself. According to his blog, Guttenfelder’s first trip was in 2000 when he accompanied former U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright on her trip to meet the now-deceased leader, King Jong-il. During that trip, he said, “we were told not to take photos from the bus we traveled in and my hotel window was covered with a black plastic sheet.”[1]


Although the intentions behind allowing Internet access to foreigners are unclear, the rare opportunity has enabled Guttenfelder to share his unusual trip to an unusual destination. Granted, he was only able to take snapshots of Pyongyang, which is known to be the wealthiest place in the country and therefore, his pictures do not show the lives of less privileged North Koreans in rural areas. Ironically, while North Korea giving foreign visitors the permission to use Internet is a remarkable progress, its citizens have never been granted a chance to experience the online world – those boys playing with David Guttenfelder’s camera may never find out that a picture of them has attracted nearly 3,000 “likes”. Given the current situation, it is unclear whether or not North Korea will continue to provide such opportunity for foreign visitors any time soon, but one photographer’s effort to create a peep-hole into this isolated country will continue to have a powerful impact on many around the world.

[1]Red David Guttenfelder’s blog at

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