Photographers' Blog

Five days with my North Korean minders

Pyongyang, North Korea

By Jason Lee

From stepping on to the Air Koryo flight to Pyongyang on the evening of July 24th until my return on the 29th, I didn’t stop taking pictures. Our group from Reuters, visiting the secretive state of North Korea for its celebrations marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, often found ourselves with no time to eat. It was only in the taxi on the way home from Beijing airport that I had time to think back on my trip.

GALLERY: INSIDE NORTH KOREA

It was the experience of a lifetime, a nation of 22 million people showing a depression and weakness of spirit that I tried my best to interpret through my cameras.

But it can also be seen through my experience with the closest North Korean people to me during the trip – the minders, the name we gave to the “guides” deployed by the government to accompany foreign media.

Probably because our Reuters group had a Korean American journalist, we got “special treatment”: two minders. One was a meek translator with no experience (I will refer him as Minder M) and the other a gruff chap (Minder G), who later turned out to be the head of a surveillance team assigned to the journalists’ shuttle bus. Upon our arrival in Pyongyang, I received a friendly warning from both of them: Please check with us before you take any picture.

Our first event was to cover the opening ceremony of the Cemetery of Fallen Fighters of the Korean People’s Army. None of the visiting journalists had been told that North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un, would be there, and in the ensuing media scrum to grab a shot of the latest, mysterious ruler of the Kim dynasty, Minder G was very kind, holding me steady as I stood on tiptoe on top of a ladder carrying three cameras.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 10 October 2010

North Korea opened its doors and the internet to the World's media to allow a glimpse of the parade which marked the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party. More importantly, it gave the world its first independent look at the protege Kim Jong-un. China based Chief Photographer Petar Kujundzic took full advantage of the opportunity.  The warmth of the picture of the women soldiers smiling - a rare glimpse into the world from which we normally only get formal, over compressed and pixelated images.

KOREA-NORTH/

North Korean female soldiers smile before a parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang October 10, 2010. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

KOREA-NORTH/

Female North Korean soldiers march during a military parade to commemorate the 65th anniversary of founding of the Workers' Party of Korea in Pyongyang October 10, 2010. Secretive North Korea's leader-in-waiting, the youngest son of ailing ruler Kim Jong-il, took centre stage during a massive military parade on Sunday, appearing live for the first time in public.      REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

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