Inside is an ongoing project giving you a glimpse of life on the inside of some of the worlds most least documented/dangerous places. Collaborating with fearless adventurers armed only with a camera and pen to bring you outstanding photographic albums and stories. You can find our other Venture Projects here.
Photography from Inside the worlds most secretive nation.
London based Atira Ariffyn is a self-taught artist and photographer that has spent the past few weeks documenting North Korea’s architecture and lifestyle in a jaw dropping photography series entitled #unveilingpyongyang. Originally from Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Atira Ariffyn has recently graduated from the Architectural Association School of Architecture. The professionally trained architect was given exclusive access inside the reclusive kingdom that many of us will never get the chance to experience.
Venture: Where did your journey to North Korea begin?
Atira: North Korea has been among the many places that I have always been curious about. There has been many different stories and theories circulating around this hermit kingdom, I wanted to see it for myself. An opportunity came earlier this year for a collaborative architecture workshop with Pyongyang University of Architecture so I immediately jumped on board.
How did you get access?
To travel to North Korea, you need an official invite and you have to be registered under agencies. As a delegate, I gained access through invitation from the Committee for Cultural Relation with Foreign Countries which is an agency under DPRK’s Ministry of Foreign Affair.
How long did you stay in North Korea for?
I was there for two weeks.
Did you have access to internet while you were there?
No, I had absolutely no access to internet during the whole duration of my stay. However, foreign diplomats and those working in foreign embassies do have full access to internet.
Did it feel like you were viewing a façade or the real North Korea?
During the first few days, I felt like I was seeing a constructed facade. A sugar-coated lens that they want the world to see their country through. The beautiful side of Pyongyang. But after a few days I do feel like more layers were unveiled. I started observing glimpses of normal everyday lives of the people that is often overlooked in favour of political propaganda generated by the media. Basically simple everyday activities like people rushing to work, queuing up for the tram, school children walking hand in hand, couple going into theatres, a group of teenagers playing volleyball, housewives buying groceries, people eating ice cream during a hot summer afternoon.
Were you able to talk to any of the Citizens?
In normal circumstances, foreign tourists are prohibited from interacting with the locals. In my case, however, being a delegate, I was working closely with a group of North Korean architecture students, and we became really close. We eat lunch together every day, we joke around, share our thoughts on different things. They became the window of the real North Korea for me. I was lucky to get the privilege to befriend them. They are really nice people.
What were they most interested in talking about?
We talked about many things. From architecture, to Korean food, about different religions (North Koreans don’t believe in religions), even to personal relationship like boyfriend/girlfriend and marriages. Obviously any political related discussions were avoided. They even taught me how to speak Korean. Sometimes they would go through the photos on my phones, looking at places I’ve been or my house or my family members. I tell them things about the life outside North Korea. They were fascinated. In exchange, they showed me photos of their lives in Pyongyang from their smartphones, their homes, pet, friends.
Did you feel as if you were under surveillance?
A little bit but not too much. My guides were quite chill.
How strict were the North Korean officials with your photography?
Contrary to popular believe, photography is not that strict in North Korea. There are some guidelines on certain things that you are not allowed to photograph like military officials, construction sites and photos of the Leaders. But general photography is perfectly fine.
Be sure to check out Atira’s artwork and architecture works at dreamsbyatira.tumblr.com and on Instagram @atiraariffyn.
Atira Arriffyn has produced a mind blowing series of photographs under the Instagram hashtag #unveilingpyongyang. Be sure to check out the full series composed of North Korea’s architecture, lifestyle, food and capital city.