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Photographer creates 'virtual panoramic tour' of North Korea

By dpreview staff on Oct 15, 2013 at 11:00 GMT

What's it like to visit one of the world's most secretive countries? Singapore-based photographer Aram Pan wanted to find out for himself. North Korea is notorious for stage-managed and highly restricted access for foreigners, but Pan decided to have a go at simply asking North Korean authorities whether he could enter the country and document what he saw.

He was granted permission, and by his own account was allowed to travel around relatively freely, with the only major restriction being that he was not allowed to photograph military personnel or installations. A professional 'virtual tour' photographer, Pan took a series of 360-degree panoramas of sites all over the country.

Photo: Aram Pan

According to Pan, quoted in an interview on the.me.com, the North Korean personnel assigned to accompany him were highly accommodating - 'my guides briefed me once on basic protocol, then let me to shoot away. They even helped me set up and keep my equipment once they saw me do it a couple of times.'

Photo: Aram Pan

Pan's experience sounds almost too good to be true to Western ears, used to reading primarily negative coverage of the secretive country, but he insists that nothing he saw on his trip appeared out of the ordinary. Speaking about his tour guides Pan claimed 'I had a lovely time with them and they never once made me feel uncomfortable. In fact they would go all out to assist me in anything that I needed. We talked freely about anything and everything under the sun, from politics to culture'.

Photo: Aram Pan

So much for the politics - as far as equipment is concerned, Pan used Nikon D800 and D700 DSLRs with various lenses, including a modified 10.5mm Nikon fisheye, with its built-in hood shaved off to make it useable on full-frame cameras. His 360-degree panoramic images are well-worth checking out - follow the links to see more.

Via: The.me, Source: Aram Pan

Comments

Total comments: 59
Dean Lapinel
By Dean Lapinel (2 months ago)

This is not, in my opinion, photography. Photography is supposed to be honest and this is a biased perspective of a Country on the downslide due to it's abusive regime. Fine, show pretty shots but one also has to show the true character of the Country. Where's the well known starvation, political and physical abuse, restrictions and the terrible darkness associated with this Country that we all know exists?
This is no different than those that shoot images of "tourist" Cuba and ignore the filthy hospitals, starvation, necessary prostitution (for survival), beaten prisoners and empty shelves in the stores for the hidden residents.

Comment edited 42 seconds after posting
1 upvote
Geodesiq
By Geodesiq (3 months ago)

Yes, it is possible to separate politics from photography. I like Leni Riefenstahl's photography for example. Does that mean I endorse Hitler?

Aside from politics this is a great example of the power of digital photography. This would have been much more difficult with film. Where can I find out exactly how this is done?

0 upvotes
inevitable crafts studio
By inevitable crafts studio (4 months ago)

if a journalist would have been guided through nazi germany accompanied by a few nice blonde helpful and polite SS soldiers visiting berchtesgaden and nice spots on the countryside. do you think they would make a quick tour to a few concentration camps?

i mean sorry, but how stupid or well paid is this guy that he thinks thats the truth in SC?

and blame dpreview for helping this blended guy publish his propaganda shots

Comment edited 51 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
bluevellet
By bluevellet (3 months ago)

Germany has always been a country with nice vistas, no matter who was in charge.

I welcome photos from North Korea. So the regime over there wants to present a sanitized version of itself to the outside world? So what? I'm just glad to see some Photos from over there, something we don't see too often. And this is a photography site after all so it's perfectly on topic. No need to be overly political and cynical about it.

Should we also dismiss Photos from the ruins of Persepolis and modern Tehran because whoever was on the Iranian tour was not granted access to nuclear refinement facilities?

Just silly.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
1 upvote
JDphotodot
By JDphotodot (6 months ago)

I so wish to believe the scenes portrayed in these images but I don’t think it's reality. The government can’t hide from the media and created restricted but `free access' areas. Constant presence of guards verifies this. Think it's mostly the elite of NK in these areas; family and relatives of government officials and some exceptions, maybe 10% of an otherwise starving nation. Body soap and chicken are a luxury only a few times a year for a great part of a starving nation, brutal labour camps with thousands of people are still very active. Even in the last decade soldiers drunk the oil of artillery vehicles to still hunger pains, robbed and even killed civilians for food as millions where spent on the military and high budget parties. The last thing the NK government need is exposure and thus created areas of illusion for the general `media’ - keeping exposure at bay. I hope the reality and truth on this nation will come forth soon, these people need freedom.

Comment edited 11 minutes after posting
3 upvotes
Mescalamba
By Mescalamba (6 months ago)

Who would believe that. North Korea is fine country where everything is just right.

Yea I dont buy that..

2 upvotes
chekist
By chekist (6 months ago)

If Soviet Union managed to convince many wstern journalists about good food situation in the middle of the worst regime inflicted femines in Russian history, North Korea can convince this guy.

But some of his comments - such as one about so much food that he saw, which would make it doubtful there is shortage - mark him as either an exceptionally simpleminded, or a paid propagandist.

3 upvotes
inevitable crafts studio
By inevitable crafts studio (4 months ago)

i think he is simpleminded

0 upvotes
Steve Hock
By Steve Hock (6 months ago)

Funny .. I didn't look at the political side at all. I just enjoyed the scenes. This man is obviously a master of the 360 technique and his images are remarkable! Even if you don't like the subject matter, give credit where credit is due.

What struck me in the images is how few people are actually in any of the shots. As you scroll around the city scenes you see very few cars, buses or people. All those residential buildings in the city but the streets seem empty.

Where is everybody in that country?

0 upvotes
inevitable crafts studio
By inevitable crafts studio (4 months ago)

if you see a photostory of north korea without suffering people and you still dont look at it at the political site, youre probably not very well educated to say the least or very ignorant, or an US citizen that probably doesnt know better because of both factors above

0 upvotes
Simple Guy
By Simple Guy (6 months ago)

Interesting pictures. Makes you wonder what the real truth is about NK.

One thing I noticed about people photos, nobody is busy looking at their phones :-)

1 upvote
Hetzer
By Hetzer (6 months ago)

What's the hype about?
The guy's a photographer, if he want's to shoot flowers or waterfalls in North Korea, that's his business. Next time he shoots birds in Oklahoma, so then he'll be promoting USA politics?

1 upvote
WizardOfOss
By WizardOfOss (6 months ago)

During my first visit to the country in 2010, our (British) guide told us an interesting story how digital photography had changed the way local people looked at tourist. In the film era, photography was extremely expensive even for the more wealthy Koreans, a single picture would easily cost something like a week's pay. As a result, Koreans themselves would only take pictures of very special occasions. And also as a result, a foreigner who's just shooting everything he sees just has to be a spy, someone to stay away from.

Nowadays many Koreans do have digital camera's, mostly cheap crap from China. And even if they don't, they do know taking pictures is basically for free. And because of that, those foreigners aren't that scary anymore. People now are much more willing to pose, and they sometimes even approach you to take a picture, have a look at your camera, or just to have a talk.

Things are changing, albeit at a very, very slow pace.

1 upvote
peterstuckings
By peterstuckings (6 months ago)

Doh! Anyone can travel through NK and photograph stuff, and have been able to for many years! This is not news, this is a promo for the photog. Yet again, dpreview...

3 upvotes
Barney Britton
By Barney Britton (6 months ago)

We are a photography website.

3 upvotes
M Lammerse
By M Lammerse (6 months ago)

Not at all anyone can travel to NK and photograph stuff.
Yet again some one who reacts does not know where he talks about it.

1 upvote
ray-ray
By ray-ray (6 months ago)

Regardless of political leanings, this was still a fascinating tour and gorgeous photography. Nobody gets to see a lot of what North Korea looks like. I thank Aram Pan for the glimpse. Of course there's abject poverty and of course a country like North Korea doesn't want it seen. However, this is a start. A small sampling of a tightly restrictive, closed society. I applaud Mr. Pan.

Comment edited 36 seconds after posting
5 upvotes
Rocco Maggi
By Rocco Maggi (6 months ago)

Always funny hearing people form the West worrying about starvation in North Korea.
Only 60 years ago UN forces were slaughtering "gooks" by the millions, and one of their last military "operations", the destruction of several dams near Pyongyang (spring-summer '53, very Dresden style), was specifically conceived in order to flood the paddy fields and inflict death... by starvation.

Comment edited 2 times, last edit 2 minutes after posting
4 upvotes
Just another Canon shooter
By Just another Canon shooter (6 months ago)

It is funny, indeed. Such a nice peaceful country respecting its citizens.

3 upvotes
brianj
By brianj (6 months ago)

Thanks for the reminder, its disgusting to even read about it.

0 upvotes
dpalugyay
By dpalugyay (6 months ago)

Is this seriously here on DPReview? Propaganda for North Korea? What's next, an interview with the Dear Leader on what he shoots with?

Comment edited 13 seconds after posting
5 upvotes
WizardOfOss
By WizardOfOss (6 months ago)

How exactly is this propaganda? Does everything you hear or read about North Korea have to be about everything that is wrong with the country?

Even though that trip might not have been as "special" as it was presented, these still are some pretty spectacular pictures of a country only few people will ever visit.

2 upvotes
inevitable crafts studio
By inevitable crafts studio (4 months ago)

its propaganda to publish a story and phits from a paid propaganda photog

easy as that, to make a leni riefenstahl portrait on how nice and clean nazigermany was is in the exact same league

0 upvotes
Aram Pan
By Aram Pan (6 months ago)

Thanks DP Review for featuring my project ! Please "like" my facebook page to follow my updates. I'll be adding more photos and 360 panoramas each week: www.facebook.com/dprk360

5 upvotes
E_Nielsen
By E_Nielsen (6 months ago)

Politics aside, I really like the 360-degree panoramic images. What a great way to capture a moment.

2 upvotes
brianj
By brianj (6 months ago)

I agree, it is a spectacular presentation.

3 upvotes
brianj
By brianj (6 months ago)

Looks like it is easier to do photography there than in the US and probably much less likely to be shot by a crazed madman. I am waiting for the tours to be available.

5 upvotes
E_Nielsen
By E_Nielsen (6 months ago)

I do hope your wish for entry into DPRK will be fulfilled. Meanwhile, I'll continue to enjoy photography in the U.S., as I have for many decades, with no fear of being shot.

5 upvotes
brianj
By brianj (6 months ago)

For your sake I hope you are one of the lucky ones.

0 upvotes
E_Nielsen
By E_Nielsen (6 months ago)

One of the lucky ones?? Gun violence in the U.S. has been on a steady decline for the past couple of decades, but I don't imagine your "news" sources would want to mention that.

What do you say we stick to photography in this forum?

5 upvotes
tjwaggoner
By tjwaggoner (6 months ago)

You are aware of the atrocities that the DPRK inflicts on its people? I am going to assume you are not based on this statement about somehow having more freedom to photograph there than the USA. You, your parents and your children can be imprisoned in labor camps for life for merely insulting the tyrants that run that country. What is happening in the DPRK is the biggest humanitarian disaster since nazi germany. And few even care, then there are those like you who make idiotic political statements about gun violence in the US trying to sound informed. You want to debate gun control and its efficacy? We can do it. Just not here. I suggest reading the book "Escape from Camp 14" to get some insight into the DPRK which you obviously are lacking. Here: some reading material while you take your shoe out of your mouth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shin_Dong-hyuk

3 upvotes
dstate1
By dstate1 (6 months ago)

Uh...ok...that makes no sense at all but good luck.

0 upvotes
Ed_arizona
By Ed_arizona (6 months ago)

SO THEY STARVE PEOPLE TO DEATH IN GULAG CAMPS, SLAVE LABOR FOR CROPS FOR THE RICH...YEAH NICE COUNRTY

4 upvotes
Jake64
By Jake64 (6 months ago)

The "they" are not regular people. Hate the regime and the oppressive man child that's running the country, not "they, the people who are not a whole lot different than you or I.

8 upvotes
Just another Canon shooter
By Just another Canon shooter (6 months ago)

They are.

1 upvote
WizardOfOss
By WizardOfOss (6 months ago)

Having said that, I still think it's good to visit the country and show another side to the world than you'd always see on the news. Yes, there's an awful lot wrong, no doubt about that. But even in those circumstances, there are people living there. It's not all about the politics and (lack of) human rights, those people try to live their lives just like we do. Besides (a lot of) work or school they also do like to have a beer/soju with friends, practice sports, and have relationships. And that's a side of the country that's hardly ever shown on TV or in newspapers, a side of the country we all too easy tend to forget.

2 upvotes
WizardOfOss
By WizardOfOss (6 months ago)

Having visited the DPRK for three times, I recognize a lot of his story and also his pictures, as far as I can see he hasn't visited any places not open to regular tourists. Just an independent tour (always with two guides and a driver...) like anyone else can book, nothing unusual.

Although there are some restrictions, after you earned the trust of the guides, you are basically free to photograph whatever you want. Obviously no military installations, no pictures of people without asking them first, and no pictures of poverty. And as anyone who has been there can tell: there is an awful lot of the latter.

Of course you won't see any labor camps, or starving people, or anything like those horror stories. That doesn't mean it doesn't exist, they simply keep you far away of anything they really don't want you to see. However, the parts they do want you to see look rather pale already. Saying it doesn't exist just because you didn't get to see it sounds rather naive to me.

3 upvotes
Camediadude
By Camediadude (6 months ago)

Thanks for the propaganda tour!

Comment edited 31 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
joe6pack
By joe6pack (6 months ago)

I have no ideas there is amusement park in NK.

0 upvotes
pca7070
By pca7070 (6 months ago)

Average height (M/F):
North Korea: 158cm/150cm
South Korea: 174cm/161cm

7 upvotes
nikoj
By nikoj (6 months ago)

So?

0 upvotes
Stealthy Ninja
By Stealthy Ninja (6 months ago)

Must be all the dunkin' donuts they have in SK.

1 upvote
tinternaut
By tinternaut (6 months ago)

Oops.

Comment edited 38 seconds after posting
0 upvotes
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (6 months ago)

Based on these pictures, this is a country where "Godless Communism reigns supreme." (Yeah, it was meant as a joke. Just don't tell it to the Christian Right.)

3 upvotes
tinternaut
By tinternaut (6 months ago)

Well, since Kim Il Sung (Great Leader, dead) is the Norks' eternal leader (having ascended to the heavens), I think they're not atheists.

0 upvotes
M Lammerse
By M Lammerse (6 months ago)

LOL

0 upvotes
s.seng
By s.seng (6 months ago)

So you in the west have been incontact with god. May be that's why so many in death row in US and can't/won't pay back.

1 upvote
dstate1
By dstate1 (6 months ago)

A sick joke. Google earth gives a more accurate representation of the realities of the DPRK. Mass poverty and food shortages combined with a sociopathic government that does not dare let its people see what they are missing. Helpfull minders indeed....

Sometimes evil really is evil.

12 upvotes
Juck
By Juck (6 months ago)

Man,, you just do everything Fox news tells you eh?

7 upvotes
sdribetahi
By sdribetahi (6 months ago)

Wow, you can hardly see the poor people.

2 upvotes
InTheMist
By InTheMist (6 months ago)

That was also my first impression. He's painting a rather pretty picture, but not necessarily a 100% honest one. He says so himself:

"It is my opinion that tourism to North Korea could be the solution to regional stability."

I'm not sure it's right to show the good without at least a taste of the bad, and it makes one wonder if that was part of the deal that he made to get such unfettered access.

3 upvotes
Ferling
By Ferling (6 months ago)

You can take photos of poor and mass poverty everywhere. None of you were lucky as I to be born a dirt poor, welfare child from an alcoholic father right here in the richest country in the world. As a sailor, I was also lucky to take several "self guided" tours overseas. The PR machine turns in all countries for similar reasons. People make due no matter their circumstances.

I think Aram's work is a good first step, and enjoy the shots of the places and people he's encountered.

10 upvotes
sdribetahi
By sdribetahi (6 months ago)

North Korea said, "shoot anything you want, as long as it's not the common people. That's our job".

6 upvotes
Francis Carver
By Francis Carver (6 months ago)

"Wow, you can hardly see the poor people."

Yeah, you need to take your camera to one of America's inner cities for that

8 upvotes
M Lammerse
By M Lammerse (6 months ago)

He's 'painting' the country as it is shown by North Korea...we all know better.
Still personally North Korea always fascinates me because it's truly different, what ever you think of it.

If you want to see more the raw side of NK...search for the images of Dutch post stamp dealer(and secret photographer) Willem van der Bijl, he enjoyed a free North Korean state holiday due to taking them for years during his visits.

Comment edited 24 seconds after posting
2 upvotes
jonathanj
By jonathanj (6 months ago)

It's a fascinating country, and actually surprisingly easy to visit (as long as you're prepared to join a tour, or pay for a private tour). I went on a one week tour earlier in the year, my (inferior!) photos are on google plus, if anyone is interested https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/116304752992793995407/albums/5887016584571990241 (and click on albums for more)
Edit : link corrected

Comment edited 3 minutes after posting
5 upvotes
rfsIII
By rfsIII (6 months ago)

This is so cool and what a great opportunity for Pan. What will really be interesting is how various people react to the pictures.

1 upvote
Mollysnoot2
By Mollysnoot2 (6 months ago)

According to the article you're linking to, he actually used a D7000 alongside the D800 - you missed off a '0'.

1 upvote
Sordid
By Sordid (6 months ago)

An amazingly interesting country.
It's very high up on my list of places I have to visit.

http://www.arqhys.com/wp-content/fotos/2011/07/Fotos-Ryugyong-Hotel.jpg
http://secondglobe.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/Ryugyong-Hotel-in-Pyongyang-North-Korea-5.jpg

2 upvotes
Total comments: 59