Eric Lafforgue received a lifetime ban from North Korea for these photos

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Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - It is forbidden to photograph malnutrition

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – It is forbidden to photograph malnutrition

Published: December 7, 2019

Last updated:

Who is Eric Lafforgue?

Eric Lafforgue is a French photographer who traverses the world. He has always been fascinated by the world countries, especially those in remote areas, and spent time in Africa when he was about ten years old, Yemen, Ethiopia, and Djibouti.

He started his photographing career in 2006, and instantly newspapers and magazines from across the world, such as National Geography, began to use his images for illustrations of Papua New Guinea and Ethiopian tribes.

Six trips to North Korea

One of his most famous pieces of work is the series of photographs about the condition of North Korea. The government doesn’t allow it to be shown to the outside world. He visited North Korea six times in the space of four years between 2008 and 2012.

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Soldiers have fun at Kaeson Youth Park in Pyongyang

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Soldiers have fun at Kaeson Youth Park in Pyongyang

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Soldiers are supposed to get a perfect attitude in public areas. But on a sunday, those ones were much more relaxed

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Soldiers are supposed to get a perfect attitude in public areas. But on a sunday, those ones were much more relaxed

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Two little girls standing on a road near a farm in Hamhung

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Two little girls standing on a road near a farm in Hamhung

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - A woman standing in the middle of a crowd of soldiers. This picture is not supposed to be taken as officials do not allow army pictures

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – A woman standing in the middle of a crowd of soldiers. This picture is not supposed to be taken as officials do not allow army pictures

Forbidden images

He managed to take a variety of pictures of the country. Of course, some of these images were not allowed to leave the country, but Lafforgue managed to sneak them out in a USB flash drive. Some of these included photos that Lafforgue was forbidden to take or was told to delete by the minders.

The images that are not allowed to be taken include those of malnutrition individuals – old or young, as this is a sign of poverty. Also, taking pictures that depict hardships such as people riding bikes for hours to and from work every day is not allowed. Eric was also told to delete one photo he took as the power went out. He was told that when there is a blackout, it is due to the American embargo on North Korea.

The North Korea regime controls everything that goes out of the country, Lafforgue said. Even me, when they let me take a picture of kids smiling, it is because it sits good for the country. I take those pictures because there is a real part of the people that are happy and I want to document that … North Koreans are brainwashed, but they live like everybody in the world.

The government of North Korea austerely controls its image, whether domestically or internationally, and that is why Eric Lafforgue’s photos pulled back the curtain and allow the world to see North Korea as it really is.

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Taking pictures in the DMZ is easy, but if you come too close to the soldiers, they stop you

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Taking pictures in the DMZ is easy, but if you come too close to the soldiers, they stop you

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Pig on bike, Kaesong

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Pig on bike, Kaesong

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Pyongyang is supposed to be the showcase of North Korea, so building exteriors are carefully maintained.  When you get a rare chance to look inside, the bleak truth becomes apparent

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Pyongyang is supposed to be the showcase of North Korea, so building exteriors are carefully maintained. When you get a rare chance to look inside, the bleak truth becomes apparent

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Queuing is a national sport for North Koreans

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Queuing is a national sport for North Koreans

Lifetime ban for taking the wrong photos

The government of North Korea didn’t like being shown unfavorably and demanded Lafforgue to take down the images, but in vain.

For any visitor to North Korea, there is an orchestrated tourist trip that you must take as directed by the government. These planned trips are only to show the good sides of the country. The minders make sure to prevent tourists from seeing how the soldiers are forced to work in the fields, how people live in poverty in rural areas, and how children are used as the source of free labor.

I refused as I show all the aspects of North Korea: the good and the bad. Just like I do with any country I visit. I refused to make an exception for North Korea, and they didn’t like this.

– Eric Lafforgue.

During his visit to North Korea, Lafforgue interacted with the locals and got to learn how they feel about their leaders.

Life is brutal in many places of North Korea, far from the Western Standard. Even with their hard life, they told me, with tears in their eyes, they venerated the dear leaders even if sometimes they do not have a lot to eat.

What followed was a life ban to North Korea for Eric Lafforgue.

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - A worker at the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex in Hamhung. While it is officially said that the site produces fertilizers, the facility has also been used for the manufacture of chemical weapons

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – A worker at the Hungnam Fertilizer Complex in Hamhung. While it is officially said that the site produces fertilizers, the facility has also been used for the manufacture of chemical weapons

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - As cars have become more widespread in Pyongyang, the peasants are still getting accustomed to seeing them. Kids play in the middle of the main avenues just like before when there were no cars in sight

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – As cars have become more widespread in Pyongyang, the peasants are still getting accustomed to seeing them. Kids play in the middle of the main avenues just like before when there were no cars in sight

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - It is absolutely forbidden to take a picture of the Kim statues from the back. It is considered very rude

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – It is absolutely forbidden to take a picture of the Kim statues from the back. It is considered very rude

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - It is forbidden to take pictures of the daily life of the North Korean people if they are not well dressed. For my guide this man was not well dressed enough to be photographed

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – It is forbidden to take pictures of the daily life of the North Korean people if they are not well dressed. For my guide this man was not well dressed enough to be photographed

The Arirang Mass Games

Whenever a tourist lands in North Korea, they are always put under a guided tour. And the guides reveal more to the tourists than stated journalists, a trick that Lafforgue used – he declared himself a tourist.
But there were still problems as each time he visited the country, he would be taken to the same arranged tour to the expected sites. So to avoid this, Lafforgue started coming during special events such as Arirang Mass Games.

The Mass games are an annual event that is held to tell a story of North Korea, accompanied by convoluted synchronized performances, which North Koreans consider an honor to take part in.

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - The Arirang Festival on May 1 at the Rungrado Stadium in Pyongyang

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – The Arirang Festival on May 1 at the Rungrado Stadium in Pyongyang

Kwangmyong – North Korea’s intranet

North Korea is known worldwide for having the most extreme censorship, with the government controlling everything, including communications. The country regularly ranks bottom of Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index. All media outlets are strictly owned and regulated by the government of North Korea.

This means that whatever the media reports come from the Korean Central News Agency, the government controls how it wants to be seen by the outside world. A large portion of the media resources is directed toward propagating political propaganda as well as promoting the personality cult of Kim II-Sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un – grandfather, father, and son that ruled and still ruling North Korea.

The internet access is only limited to some high-level government officials, while in universities, a small number of strictly supervised computers are offered. Besides these two scenarios, the rest of the North Korean citizens may only be allowed access to the government-owned intranet called Kwangmyong1, which, as you have already guessed, is also highly restricted.

The country’s own intranet is only limited to certain elite grade schools, universities, selected research institutions, factories, as well as privileged individuals. Visitors to the country can access the internet via the 3G phone network. Kwangmyong intranet is filtered by the government’s Korea Computer Center, which only allows information deemed acceptable to be accessed.

With all connections cut with the outside world, the North Koreans believe what they live in is a normal life, just like in any part of the world. However, some have managed to escape from the country, and they have bone-chilling stories about their past life there.

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - North Korean army soldiers pass in front of the giant portraits of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-Sung at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – North Korean army soldiers pass in front of the giant portraits of Kim Jong-il and Kim Il-Sung at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - People offer respect in the Great Mansudae Monument, in Pyongyang

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – People offer respect in the Great Mansudae Monument, in Pyongyang

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - Smiling North Korean female soldiers in Tower of the Juche Idea, Pyongyang​

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – Smiling North Korean female soldiers in Tower of the Juche Idea, Pyongyang​

Final thoughts

The 38 illegal photos smuggled out of North Korea by Eric Lafforgue gives a rare image of what life really is in this highly secretive country. An extreme inadequacy of reliable information hinders media coverage in the country, and most of the information about North Korea is usually filtered through neighboring South Korea.

However, the longstanding conflicts between the two means the information cannot be relied upon. Eric Lafforgue’s images allow us to at least have an idea of the day-day life of North Koreans, and even if he was banned for life, it seems to be a small price to pay for undistorted truth about lives of the citizens in North Korea.

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - When you visit families, the guides love it if you take pics to show the world that kids have computers. But when they see there is no electricity, then they ask you to delete

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – When you visit families, the guides love it if you take pics to show the world that kids have computers. But when they see there is no electricity, then they ask you to delete

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - For a long time, bans against black market sales have been strictly enforced. Grey market vendors are more common. They earn a little money selling cigarettes or sweets

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – For a long time, bans against black market sales have been strictly enforced. Grey market vendors are more common. They earn a little money selling cigarettes or sweets

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea - In the art center of Pyongyang, we experienced a power outage, a daily event the North Koreans hate to show. When it happens, they tell you it’s because of the American embargo

Eric Lafforgue – North Korea – In the art center of Pyongyang, we experienced a power outage, a daily event the North Koreans hate to show. When it happens, they tell you it’s because of the American embargo

All images: Eric Lafforgue/ericlafforgue.com. Used with permission.

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  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kwangmyong_%28network%29
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