For the past three years Associated Press photographer Wong Maye-E has been working to gain the trust of those she photographs in North Korea. In the authoritarian country that has zero tolerance for those who express objection to its government, or their leader Kim Jong Un – Maye-E has had to work in an environment where trust in the foreign media is greatly lacking.
When interacting with her subjects, Maye-E first takes their photo with a instant camera, and gives them a copy of their picture. This small interaction helps break the ice for her next set of questions: “what’s important to you?” and, “what’s your life motto?”
Their answers, as Maye-E says, usually worked around the theme of propaganda. “A lot of their answers were based on the theme of protecting their fatherland, protecting their current leader Kim Jung Un, or pleasing him,” she said in an interview with AP. Ahead, 14 portraits of North Koreans along with their telling responses to Maye-E’s questions.
“As one of the working class, I’ll devote myself to realize the great idea of Marshal Kim Jong Un and I’ll work hard to achieve this,” said Kim Jong Sil.
“Being a girl doesn’t stop me from upholding the leadership Marshal Kim Jong Un and it drives me to be even better,” said Jang Sol Hyang.
Pak Sin Hyok spoke of Juche, an ideology created by past President Kim Il Sung. “To give focus to producing Juche-oriented art and bring glory to the Juche idea which is the idea of reliance,” he said.
Ri Nam Hae, on the left said: “Spread the country’s propaganda to the world.” Kil Myong Kyong on the right, said “I want to uphold Marshal Kim John Un and North Korea with my rifle.”
“I want to win medals in this sport to please our leader, Kim Jong Un,” said Won Dae Chol.
“To be an excellent athlete and win gold medals and spread awareness of this sporting discipline to the world,” said Ri Suk Hyang.
“To live a healthy life devoted to supporting my country’s ruling party,” said Ri Chun Im.
“To always help others but of course, patriotism towards my country is most important,” said Kil Jin A.
“To devote myself to leader Kim Jong Un for the rest of my life. For him, and for the fatherland,” said Pak Su Won.
“To have many children so that they can serve in the army and defend and uphold our leader and country, for many years into the future,” this couple told Maye-E.
“I want to make other people dedicated to the building of a thriving nation by giving lectures and tours, as a guide, for as long as I can,” said Kim Son Hui.
Kim Yon Hui, on the left answered, “To please our dear leader by working hard for the people in my country.” Yang Pok Yong, had a similar answer: “To please leader by working hard for the people in my country.”
Ham Kum Hyok, on the left said: “I want to be a world class publisher one day.” Pak Mi Hyang said: “I want to please my leader Kim Jong Un by studying hard.”
“To repay the love and care which the Marshel has provided me, by working hard,” said Kim Hyon Ae.