The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) has long warned tourists of “arrest and long-term detention.” Despite the threat, around 100,000 people visit the hermit kingdom annually. In 2016, Photographer Raphael Olivier was one of those people. Here we showcase some of his most surreal photos from the trip.
Regardless of traveling independently or through an agent, tourists are allegedly supervised from the moment they arrive in North Korea. Things are so tense that the Trump administration is weighing new legislation that would ban U.S. citizens from being able to travel there. Olivier, however, has already made the trip, describing it as an “eerie” place.
Speaking to Business Insider, he said that despite a population of 3 million, the streets of Pyongyang are filled only with music. He said people work and keep busy out of sight in the daytime.
Much of the architecture of Pyongyang rose from the rubble after 1953 and the Korean War bombings.
Concrete megastructures painted like Easter eggs dominate the skyline. According to Olivier, these towers are meant to radiate strength, resilience, and national pride. "The city is an incredible showcase of beautifully preserved vintage socialist architecture, untouched by the visual pollution of commercial advertising billboards, flashy retails, or ugly office buildings," said Olivier.
The Pyongyang International Cinema House sits mostly abandoned on the city's edge. The theater opens for special events, such as the Pyongyang International Film Festival, which is held every two years.
Something interesting to many of us would be the difference in the general public and their lack of smartphones in public, due in part to North Korea's chokehold on the Internet. It was "strangely refreshing," albeit for an unsettling reason.
Upon entry to the country, visitors are instructed on what they can and cannot take pictures of. Customs agents inspect your cell phone and other digital devices, including cameras, tablets, and storage cards, for banned content on your way out.
Check out more of photographer Raphael Olivier's work on his website.