Forbidden Photos of North Korea by Photographer Eric Lafforgue

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Eric said, “I was banned after my last trip in September 2012 when I published some photos on the web. The North Koreans saw them and asked me to delete them as they judged them too offensive. I refused as I thought it was unfair not to show the reality of the country.”  Mr Lafforgue wanted to show that North Koreans are humans, not robots, who also suffer. “Life is brutal in many places of North Korea, far from the Western standard.” These are the photographs Kim Jong-un didn’t want the outside world to see. ERIC LAFFORGUE

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The North Korean army is said to be one of the most important in the world. But if you travel there, you’ll often see soldiers doing menial tasks like helping farmers.

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A woman standing in the middle of a crowd of soldiers. This picture is not supposed to be taken as officials do not allow army pictures.

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‘The North Korean officials hate when you take this kind of picture. Even when I explain that poverty exists all around the world, in my own country as well, they forbid me from taking pictures of the poor.’

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Outside urban areas, such a scene is fairly common.

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'I spotted these kids collecting maize grains in the streets near Begaebong,'

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Female friends are pictured holding hands at Pyongyang Subway.

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Not allowed: It is forbidden to take pictures of North Korean people if they are not well dressed.

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Child labour: 'When times are hard (as they usually are here), children can be found working for the farming collectives,'

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‘Paranoia is strong in North Korean minds. I took this picture at a funfair of a tired mother and child resting on a bench. I was asked to delete the picture since the guides were certain I would have said those people were homeless.’

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‘As cars have become more widespread in Pyongyang, the peasants are still getting accustomed to seeing them. Kids play in the middle of the main avenues just like before when there were no cars in sight.

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No photos! 'Taking pictures in the demilitarised zone (between North and South Korea) is easy, but if you come too close to the soldiers, they stop you'

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‘When you visit families, the guides love it if you take pics to show the world that kids have computers. But when they see there is no electricity, then they ask you to delete.’

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'In Kaesong near the demilitarised zone, you are locked in an hotel complex made of old houses.

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A man takes a rest by the sea in Chilbo.

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Malnutrition is not uncommon among children, many of whom were born during the famine in the 90s and in the early noughties

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Although the regime has cracked down on the black market, the 'grey market', to which officials turn a blind eye, allow some to scratch a livin

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For a long time, bans against black market sales have been strictly enforced. Grey market vendors are more common. They earn a little money selling cigarettes or sweets.’

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‘It is forbidden to take pictures of soldiers relaxing.’

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The North Korean regime hates photos that show soldiers resting.

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'This man was using an old tyre for a boat. In the countryside, people often fish in small lakes - it's a way to get fresh food in remote areas where it's rare'

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On the day of the Kimjongilia festival, thousands of North Koreans must queue up to visit various monuments.’

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'You are supposed to see fun at the Songdowon Children's Camp but some come from the country and are scared of escalators which they’ve never seen before'

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One night, on the way back to the hotel my bus had to take an alternate route due to street closures. As we passed by old buildings, the guides asked me not to shoot with flash. The official reason was to avoid scaring people.

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‘It’s not a circus, they are workers in a country with low safety standards.’ 

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‘A visit to a rural home. Those houses and the families who live there are carefully selected by the government. But sometimes, a detail like a bathroom used as a cistern shows that times are hard.’

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‘Showing poverty is forbidden, but displaying wealth is also a big taboo in North Korea. In a park on a Sunday afternoon, I found this car that belongs to one of Pyongyang’s elite. The owners were having a BBQ.’

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‘It is also forbidden to photograph malnutrition.’

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'People go to the country to do public projects. The regime used to see shots like these as positive but now they know that we interpret this as forced labour'

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Exhausted: 'You see a lot of tired people on the roadside, since many have to ride their bikes for hours to get to work. Taking pictures of them is forbidden.'

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‘This is never supposed to happen: a broom standing on the base of Kim Il Sung’s statue in Mansudae, in Pyongyang.’

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Children struggle to move a cart in Chongjin.

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Forbidden: The regime considers pictures showing smiles under portraits of the leadership to be disrespectful. 'Never take a picture where you can see people doing silly things in front of the Kim portraits,' says Lafforgue

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This is what happens when the bus breaks down.

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Queuing is a national sport for North Koreans.’ This is the line for the bus. 

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'Perhaps the most ridiculous prohibition of all. When I took the picture, everyone yelled at me. Since the painting was unfinished, I couldn’t take the picture'

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‘Public transportation connecting the main towns is nearly non-existent. Citizens need permits to go from one place to another. On the highways, you can spot soldiers hitchhiking.’

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‘You can find all kinds of food and drink in Pyongyang’s two supermarkets where things are sold in both euros and wins. They even have Evian water. Only the elite can shop there.’

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This kind of picture is widespread in the west. The caption often explains that North Koreans eat grass from the park. The guides get furious if you take it.

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‘In the art centre of Pyongyang, we experienced a power outage, a daily event the North Koreans hate to show. When it happens, they tell you it’s because of the American embargo.’

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'The way you dress is very important in North Korea. When I asked to take a picture of these students, the girl insisted that the man straighten his shirt.

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'A rare example of an undisciplined kid in North Korea. The bus was driving in the small roads of Samijyon in the north, when this boy stood in the road'

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'North Korea says foreign aid is a war debt, but taking photos of the WFP sign through the window of a house in a village is forbidden'

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'Officials took issue with this photo for two reasons: The teen is wearing his cap in a strange way (according to my guide), and there are soldiers in the background'

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‘When visiting the delphinium in Pyongyang, you can photograph the animals, but not the soldiers who make up 99 per cent of the crowd.’

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Pyongyang is supposed to be the showcase of North Korea, so building exteriors are carefully maintained. When you get a rare chance to look inside, the bleak truth becomes apparent.

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‘It is absolutely forbidden to take a picture of the Kim statues from the back. It is considered very rude.’ END 30-SEPTIEMBRE-2014