North Korea is one of the last places on earth that hasn’t been photographed extensively. With it’s secretive nature and tightly controlled borders, anything that we see out of the country is usually an official address. It’s rare to see more of the people or places in the so-called ‘Hermit Kingdom’ than we’re exposed to when a foreign dignitary visits and meets with its leader, Kim Jong-il.
Photographer Eric Lafforgue traveled to North Korea four times between 2008 and 2010, shooting images of everything that he could, playing a ‘cat and mouse’ game with his supervisors. In doing so, he captured absolutely gorgeous images of one of the least photographed populous countries in the world.
The Fotopedia North Korea app for iPhone and iPad [App Store, free] collects over 1,100 of those images together into an easy to browse package. I’ve spent the last week going through the archives and I can tell you that there are some incredible images here. Not only are they scenes that most of the world has never seen before, they’re also just really great photographs.
The photographs themselves are very well shot and the subject matter is widely varied. They portray a country that is clean and orderly, with the barest hints of western influence. Bright traditional dress and drab uniformity seem to exist side by side. While I’m sure that there are areas of the country that are not as presentable you can still see enough here to make it evident that all may not be as it seems. Propaganda that portrays the US and Japan as crazed invaders, the stark uniformity of dress and abundance of people walking in formation, it’s all just a bit off-kilter.
Regardless, the beauty of the country and its people is on display in full force here. Even though it may be edited in some fashion, it’s still one of the most complete visual pictures we’ve seen of the life, technology and recreation of the people of North Korea in recent years.
The app comes from Fotonauts, a company with an interesting history of its own. It was founded by Jean-Marie Hullot, who was CTO of NeXT and then took the same job at Apple’s Applications Division. The app is clean and presents the photographs with minimal distraction. You can navigate with tags, seaching and interactive maps that let you see where the photos were shot. You can also bookmark and favorite images, then build lists of them.
In a nice touch, the app also lets you share your favorite photos via email, Facebook and Twitter, which is a cool way to share a standout image. If you find one that you really love, you can just tap on the share button and set any one of them as your wallpaper. This is unusual in a photo collection and an example to be followed.
Images of propoganda posters, military training, children’s athletic corps, monuments to Kim Jong-il, it’s all there. While I’m sure that there were many areas kept off limits there is still so much to see here. If you look at a dozen images a day there is still months worth of images for you to enjoy.
I’ve been perusing them over coffee in the morning for inspiration, the app is clean and simple and the photographs are amazing. An absolutely incredible collection of photos, and it’s completely free.
You can grab the Fotopedia North Korea app on the App Store, free.