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By Carlos Barria

I never imagined that a simple image on a piece of paper could have the power to transform someone’s suspicious look into an expression of surprise — the kind of surprise you might see on a child’s face as they watch their first magic trick.

But I saw this transformation a week ago, when I joined a group of journalists on a trip to North Korea. I brought a Polaroid camera along with the idea of taking a few portraits. I wanted to be able to offer these portraits to the subjects themselves.

I’ve always liked the idea of trading something with the subject of a photograph. I take his or her picture, or image, and in some circumstances, it seems appropriate to give something back. I can’t pay them, so ideally I send them a copy of the picture by email.

Knowing North Koreans have little access to the Internet, I brought a Polaroid camera instead. When I used it to take portrait pictures, I took two snaps. Then I gave one Polaroid to the person in the picture, and I kept the second for myself; one copy for them, one copy for me.

But, I didn’t count on the incredible expressions that would come over North Koreans’ faces as they watched the Polaroids slowly emerge.

Vacation in North Korea?

If you are planning to take an exotic vacation, maybe Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is your place.

A week ago I joined a group of foreign journalists and a delegation of Chinese tourism agents on a trip highlighted by a cruise that left the port area of North Korea’s Rason City and headed south to the country’s famous Mont Kumgang resort. To get to the ship, we took a bus from China to a border crossing in Hunchun. Before we arrived at customs, our Chinese guides collected our mobile phones. North Korean authorities don’t allow foreigners to carry any type of mobile communications.

When we crossed a bridge over the river Tumen Jiang, which marks the border between China and North Korea, we passed from a modern highway to an unpaved country road.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 28 November 2010

I was listening to a radio programme about the history of military music (please bear with me) and a woman recounted a story about the first time she heard the "Last Post" being played at the Cenotaph in London on Remembrance Sunday. The woman (sadly I don't remember her name), said that what really struck her was that after the moment of total silence was broken by the first notes of the Last Post she knew that every one of the thousands of people standing in Whitehall would be sharing the same thought - that of someone who they had loved and lost. Three stories this week put me in mind of this woman as I looked at images of people grieving for lost ones. The difference being that for each person lost the world was watching their story albeit only momentarily; the crushed people in Cambodia, the miners in New Zealand and the four people killed by the shelling by North Korea of the tiny island of Yeonpyeong.

CAMBODIA STAMPEDE/

People are crushed in a stampede on a bridge in Phnom Penh November 23, 2010. The stampede killed at least 339 people late on Monday and wounded nearly as many after thousands panicked on the last day of a water festival, authorities and state media said. REUTERS/Stringer

At 3.30am on the 24th I received a call from the desk telling me that that hundreds of people had been killed in Cambodia during the water festival. The picture I saw horrific, young people twisted together, some dead and some alive, panic in their eyes as people stampeded to try to leave an island linked by a bridge.  The picture of the people in the act of dying reminding me of the images from the Hillsborough soccer disaster in 1989 when fans were crushed to death in steel cages as more fans tried to crowd into the game, photographers pitch side only needing turn around to take these pictures, unable to help as the life was squeezed out of them.

Inside North Korea: No one said anything

A ground staff of North Korean airliner Air Koryo thrusts a hand in front of her face at the airport in North Korean capital of Pyongyang October 12, 2010. REUTERS/Petar Kujundzic

Questions immediately filled my mind when I learned I would be part of a Reuters team heading to North Korea to cover a ceremony, where it was rumored Kim Jong-il’s son and heir apparent would make his debut.

- Would I be able to take pictures of North Korean leader Kim Jong-il? No photographer outside North Korea had taken his picture for a while.
- What access would I have to the parade? I worried they’d put us in some corner far away from the action.
- How would I transmit my pictures? Some people said we wouldn’t have Internet connections.
- Where would we sleep? I had heard there are two good hotels in Pyongyang, but one is on an island and difficult to leave without close supervision.
- Would I be able to shoot photos of ordinary street life?

Upon landing in Pyongyang with about 70 other members of the international media, we went through the passport and custom control where we handed over our mobile phones. I took a couple of pictures at the airport and no one said anything.

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

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures 3 October, 2010

At the beginning of the week I had my doubts that we would actually see pictures from two major events taking place in Asia; North Korea's ruling Workers' Party conference, the biggest held for 30 years intended to push ahead the succession process for Kim Jong-il's son Kim Jong-Un and the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games in Delhi. As it turned out, the pictures from both fronted publications around the world.

KOREA-NORTH/

Kim Jong-un (8th L, seated), the youngest son of North Korea's leader Kim Jong-il (C), poses with the newly elected members of the central leadership body of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) and the participants in the WPK Conference, at the plaza of the Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's KCNA news agency September 30, 2010. North Korean state media released a photograph on Thursday of the reclusive state's leader-in-waiting Kim Jong-un. North Korean leader Kim Jong-il anointed his youngest son as successor this week, promoting him to senior political and military positions. REUTERS/KCNA

The pictures we received from KCNA, the official North Korean news agency, are truly historic in the visual tradition of  announcements by the communist state - a very wide group picture including everything . It is the cropping of these images that reveal their true value. Sometimes I am asked what pixel quality do we need for news pictures - the answer is simple - if the picture is important enough it doesn't matter what the quality is, it will get used.  The two pictures below are cropped from the group portrait.

from Russell Boyce:

Asia – A Week in Pictures September 26, 2010

A tough week for India as athletes began arriving  for the start of the Commonwealth Games. On September 21, a pedestrian walkway outside the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi collapsed; the very next day a portion of the ceiling in the weightlifting arena also collapsed. Social and mainstream media showed pictures of blocked drains, dirty bathrooms, soiled matresses and unfinished work in the athletes' accommodation.  Team members started to pull out of the games, undermining the status of the event. The enormity of the clean-up task seemed insurmountable, this concern beautifully illustrated by Parivartan Sharma's picture of a man sweeping dust in the streets with a hand brush - a seemingly pointless task when CWG president Fennell said that there was still "considerable work to be done". Have a close look at Reinhard Krause's picture of the roof of the weight lifting arena and make your own judgement on the workmanship of the construction.  As someone who has not got a great head for heights I fear for the safety of the workers walking on the roof of the building.

GAMES/

A man sweeps under a flyover in front of the Commonwealth Games athletes village in New Delhi September 25, 2010. Commonwealth Games Federation President Michael Fennell said on Saturday there was still a considerable amount of work to be done and there was great concern about the security and safety of athletes and officials. REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma

GAMES-INDIA/ROOF

Workers climb down the roof of the weightlifting venue for the upcoming Commonwealth Games in New Delhi, September 22, 2010.   A portion of false ceiling in the Commonwealth Games weightlifting venue in India's capital caved in on Wednesday, a day after 27 workers were injured when a footbridge collapsed near the same sports complex.  REUTERS/Reinhard Krause