|A North Korean crossing guard|
In an effort to pictorially reveal the true state of the 2 countries, especially that of the little-visited, enigmatic North, noted travel and documentary photographer Mark Edward Harris spent years and 8 visits to both sides of the 150-mile border that separates the 2 countries. His results can now be seen in 2 separate volumes he published this year, one entitled North Korea and the other South Korea.
Harris recently appeared on an Inside Media program at the Newseum to talk about the 2 countries and his project.
Harris acknowledged that there were some difficulties shooting in North Korea. "They are not going to adjust the whole country for the few foreigners that go there," Harris said. "Just getting into the country is difficult. And then they (the government) want to show the country as the paradise they claim it to be. They don't want the world to see any images of poverty."
To that end, the North Koreans assign minders to all foreign visitors to limit what can be seen and captured on camera. "They saw I was pretty fair with things. I just wanted to show the outside world what it is like there. The more they get to know you, the more they show you," Harris said.
However, Harris said that his minders did order him to erase of few of his photos. "But I had already backed them up. You have to work quickly," he said with a laugh.
So how did Harris find the North Korean people? "There is a lot more awareness in North Korea than we (outsiders) give them credit for. And the people are a lot more normal than you would expect.," he said.
"They are very appreciative. They do separate the person from the political system. But still, an average citizen has to be careful interacting with a foreigner," he added.
Harris said it was clearly evident that despite all the North Korean saber-rattling and positive propaganda, the country is suffering. That condition was was reflected in some of the faces he captured. "The cliche that the eyes are the window to the soul - I think there's some truth to that," he said.
In his many years of taking pictures all over the world, Harris said he has discovered 2 things - kids are cute everywhere and everyone loves to get their picture taken. But there was a subtle difference in North Korea. "People were OK in a group, but they didn't want to be isolated (for a picture), they wanted someone in the picture with them and they weren't vying for position," he said.
Tales, Tidbits, and Tips
Here is a small sampling of the Korean photos Harris has included in his 2-volume set. We'll let the pictures talk for themselves.