Humans of North Korea: An ordinary American tourist’s photos from inside the Hermit Kingdom

A culture very few Westerners get to experience first hand.
A culture very few Westerners get to experience first hand.
Image: AP Photo/Wong Maye-E
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Like many other young Americans, Taylor Pemberton went on vacation this summer and shared photos of the trip on Instagram. But instead of taking beach selfies or food ‘grams like his peers, Pemberton’s Instagram account houses a collection of incredible, everyday images from his visit to North Korea.

Unsurprisingly, Pemberton’s trip was heavily monitored.

You follow a strict itinerary and you are on a tight schedule to see what North Korea allows. You are strictly informed when it is okay/not okay to take photos. However! With thousands of visitors each year, the fabric loosens, and that’s where things start to get interesting. You’re able to witness the the imperfections, the infinite nuances… the hiccups that reveal why some foreigners have become so obsessed and return year after year to live with what exists behind the curtain.

Some of his photos wouldn’t be out of place on a local edition of Humans of New York.

According to Pemberton, it’s actually not very difficult for Western tourists to visit North Korea, as there are several tourism companies that service the elusive country. Pemberton’s visa was granted a week before his flight to Pyongyang, and although the journey itself went smoothly, the moral quandary of financially aiding a totalitarian dictatorship was not lost on him.

“It was a tough decision to fork over the money to travel to North Korea,” Pemberton writes. “There are serious things to consider, not all of which I’m comfortable supporting.”

Even so, it’s fascinating to get a peek at life in Pyongyang, despite how filtered it may be.