Lonely Planet Writer

See everyday life inside North Korea in these revealing images

A photojournalist who smuggled photographs out of North Korea has says there is more to the country than meets the eye, but his unsanctioned photography has left him banned from ever returning.

A Pyongyang volleyball court.
North Koreans play volleyball in a public square in Pyongyang. Volleyball is reportedly one of the most popular sports. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

The photographs by Gavin John show North Koreans going about their everyday lives, and were taken on a trip back in 2014. One image shows a woman sitting outside a store front but there was only an empty building inside. Other shots show people waiting at bus stops, reading train timetables and taking a stroll through a public park.

North Korean people site at a bus stop in Pyongyang.
Pyongyang citizens sit at a bus stop that features images of artillery instead of advertising. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

The pictures were taken in Pyongyang, North Korea by the 31-year-old freelance photojournalist from Calgary, Canada.

At the Victorious War Museum in Pyongyang a North Korean officer poses for the camera.
A North Korean officer poses for a photo at the Victorious War Museum in Pyongyang. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

“North Korea has always been an enigma to me and the rest of the world,” he said.

In the suburbs of Pyongyang, a North Korean woman waits.
A North Korean woman sits on the side of the road in the suburbs of Pyongyang. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

“It’s openly hostile government, combined with an unparalleled secrecy, and a legacy of misinformation, all screamed for me to experience it myself and see how true or not these claims were. I’ve always felt there’s more to the eye than what’s been presented.”

North Korea is captured in a series of photographs.
A Korean War veteran and his grandson pay their respects to the leaders of North Korea at the Mansudae Hill Grand Monument in Pyongyang. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

He said that going to North Korea is like stepping back in time, likening it to the Soviet Union in the 1970s. He said the clothing, cars and architecture were from a “bygone era”.

Mansudae Hill Grand Monument is the site of a conversation between a Korean War veteran and another man.
A man speaks to a highly decorated Korean War veteran at the Mansudae Hill Grand Monument. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

“Propaganda posters of glorious battles were in the places where advertising would be, and large flowing flags of North Korea hung off every street corner and building.

North Korean teenagers chat at a skate park.
Two young boys share a laugh at the Pyongyang skate park, where the overwhelming majority of youth were using rollerskates. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

“However, I found everyday North Koreans a kind and gentle people where curiosity was the prominent reaction to my presence there. I tried to focus my images on these people, their interactions with each other and myself.”

Two people share a laugh at the Pyongyang Amusement park, which featured bumper cars, a roller coaster and other rides.
Two people share a laugh at the Pyongyang Amusement park, which featured bumper cars, a roller coaster and other rides. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World
North Korean soldiers react to the camera just outside of Pyongyang. Soldiers generally were quite curious and friendly when noticing foreigners.
North Korean soldiers react to the camera just outside of Pyongyang. Soldiers generally were quite curious and friendly when noticing foreigners. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World
A North Korean officer and soliders stand guard at the old negotiation room at the De-Militarized Zone on the border with South Korea.
A North Korean officer and soliders stand guard at the old negotiation room at the De-Militarized Zone on the border with South Korea. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

He noted that as he took his photographs, “every now and then there were indications that there was, in fact, something not right. Glimpses of empty buildings behind a fake storefront or restaurants suddenly full of people mid-meal when minutes before were empty tables.”

North Korean woman is relaxing on a storefront.
A woman sits on the ledge of a storefront, which appeared to be empty beyond the display. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

Mr John hopes his pictures can show that ordinary North Koreans are no different to anyone else. “We’re all guilty of our own preconceptions of North Korea, and much of it is false,” he added.

North Korean patriotic posters.
A common sight around Pyongyang were the numerous “patriotic posters”, which carried socialist and militaristic images. Image by Gavin John/Media Drum World

If you are inspired by the thought of a trip to the country, here’s what you need to know before you visiting North Korea.

(Media Drum World)