Behind the Veil: London-based photographer Michal Huniewicz smuggles you inside secretive North Korea


posted Thursday, March 17, 2016 at 8:43 AM EST


There are some places on our planet with which we're all very familiar: The Pyramids of Giza, the Grand Canyon, Stonehenge, the Eiffel Tower, the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal -- the list goes on, and every one is instantly recognizable. Other places, though, are rather more secretive, and it's much less seldom that we get to take a peak beneath the veil.

For most of us in the western world, North Korea falls into the latter camp, and for good reason. Visitors from outside the country are routinely assigned guides on their arrival, ostensibly to assist and provide information. Truth be told, though, their real job is to try to stop their charges from interacting too closely with the locals, to keep their prying eyes (and cameras) away from scenes of poverty and unhappiness, and to guide them towards more carefully manicured and managed subjects.

These government-appointed guides can occasionally be distracted or otherwise fooled, though, and every now and then photos are smuggled out of North Korea that give us a glimpse of the true situation. London-based photographer Michal Huniewicz recently managed just that, recording the country's citizens as they went about their rather meager existence in a country which appears to have been locked in a time capsule of its own making.

Two galleries on Huniewicz' superb website -- "Road to North Korea" and "Ostensibly Ordinary: Pyongyang" take us through his lens and inside the real North Korea. The whole site is chock-full of superb and often very revealing imagery, but it is these galleries which we find to be amongst the most interesting.

And not just for the photography, either. Huniewicz' captions are often just as illuminating, providing everything from tips on how to capture and smuggle photos out of North Korea ("Change the menu language to something other than English to confuse [customs officers] and slow them down" ... "override the firmware on your camera, so that the Delete button doesn't really delete the photos, it simply hides them") to wry observations on a country that seems utterly alien to most outsiders ("We looked at a surreal scene that appeared like something out of a theatre in its perfection and artifice. Elegant men, beautiful women, walking in a simulated hurry, travellers without a reason (ours was the only train that day), all to impress us and so that the station doesn't look empty" ... "I worried I wouldn't be able to keep a straight face seeing all that absurdity all around. But when you actually are in North Korea, it's just not funny. It's utterly horrible.")

To see the galleries in their entirity, check out the photography section of Huniewicz' website. And when you're done, don't forget to browse his other galleries, as well. We could easily spend a good few hours following the in-depth documentation of his travels all around the globe...

(via Resource Magazine; topographic map courtesy of Sadalmelik / Wikipedia; used under a Creative Commons CC-BY-SA-3.0 license. Image has been modified from the original.)