Tomas van Houtryve Sneaks into North Korea

Panos Pictures’ twitter feed actually alerted me to this very interesting body of work by Tomas van Houtryve in North Korea (timely, eh). “Secrets and Lies”. Beyond the fascinating pictures the back story is incredible too.

A woman carries a bouquet of yellow flowers down the escalator into a Pyongyang metro subway. (c) Tomas van Houtryve

Flattr this

Adopting the persona of a Belgian chocolate magnate, complete with disguise and funny accent, Tomas van Houtryve made his second trip to North Korea in February 2008. Despite his credentials as a foreign businessman keen to invest in the country, he faced hours of interrogation, was threatened by apparatchiks, and at one point was almost exposed as a journalist. His bold tactics gave him access to factories, hospitals and government offices, some of which had never before been seen by a Western photographer. He was also able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the lives of ordinary people.


Though the pictures were shot in February 2008, they might just be being released now? Curious, I’ll have to look in to this, but wanted to share first.

(Instant Update! I read on Tomas’ blog and newsletter that these images are currently being exhibited in Spain (through July 7) and were recently published in the great Foreign Policy Magazine which I think is on newsstands now. It seems the images have been out, at least for a few months, but this is the first time I’ve seen them… terrific stuff)

5 Responses to “Tomas van Houtryve Sneaks into North Korea”

  1. M. Scott Brauer

    Great find, man. Can’t wait to sink my teeth into this; looks great so far. One of the last few places in the world, maybe, where every glimpse we see is a view into an almost wholly unknown world. There’s a great open source attempt to map North Korea’s infrastructure via google earth going on at the moment, too.

    And here’s an account of somebody’s trip from Vienna to Pyongyang by rail without the relevant visas or permission. Pictures aren’t great, and doing the same thing now, just a couple years later, could get you landed in the clink like those two Current TV journalists currently being held.

  2. Matt Lutton

    M Scott .. man, why’d you post that link? I ended up taking an hour to read it all the way through. Yea, the pictures aren’t great but they’re really interesting .. so much stuff (all the way across Russia, really) that I haven’t seen before. Fascinating journey.. what a crazy place, North Korea. All the more kudos to Tomas

    • M. Scott Brauer

      @Matt Lutton, yeah…I should’ve posted it. Maybe I’ll make a full on post with those links, since maybe things get lost here in the comments.

Comments are closed.