There’s so much we don’t know about North Korea.
Very few people ever see inside the oppressive regime, and even fewer manage to escape it, so we rely on the accounts of those who’ve experienced it first-hand to build us a picture.
One of those people is Wong Maye-E, the leading North Korea photographer for the Associated Press, which set up a bureau in downtown Pyongyang in 2012.
Singaporean Maye-E has been photographing the hermit state for three years now, but perhaps one of her most fascinating collections is a set of photos taken with an instant camera.
Focusing on single subjects, she snapped portraits of the people who call North Korea home and asked each one of them for their name, age, occupation, and their motto.
Their answers often reveal the chilling result of lifelong indoctrination and an unwavering loyalty to their leader, Kim Jong-Un, but we also see a human side of Pyongyang that is rarely shown.
Photograher Wong Maye-E snapped portraits of the people who call North Korea home and asked each one of them for their name, age, occupation, and their motto. Pictured below is Sin Ye Suk, 50, a homemaker and the chief of the people’s unit at the apartment block she lives in. She says “I devote my life to helping others.”
This is 19-year-old Jang Sol Hyang. She’s studying mathematics at Kim Il Sung University. Her motto: “Being a girl doesn’t stop me from upholding the leadership of Marshal Kim Jong Un and it drives me to be even better.”
May-E visits North Korea once a month, usually for 10 days at a time. The secretive regime ensures all foreign visitors — including Wong Maye-E — are shadowed by a minder at all time, meaning they monitor her movements and see all her photographs.
Speaking to TIME Magazine, she said: “Trust between us [the minder] and them has to be built and the working relationship seems to be good, but always delicate.”
Ri Nam Hae, left, and Kil Myong Kyong are both 16-years old. Ri wants to be a journalist and her motto is to “spread the country’s propaganda to the world.” Kil’s motto: “I want to uphold Marshal Kim Jong Un and North Korea with my rifle.
Captain Ri Ok Gyong is 24 and enjoys her job because she wants to help foreigners understand the “real history of the Korean War, and the United State’s false propaganda about North Korea.”
May-E says told TIME she tries her best to portray life in the mystifying nation in an “accurate” and “creative” way.
Many North Korean parents hope their children will defend their country to the death. These newlyweds said they want “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.”
When asked what’s important to them, North Koreans might talk about working hard, or doing well at sports, or having a big family, but leader Kim Jong Un is never far from the conversation, according to the photographer.
How genuine these people’s sentiments are is unclear. It’s important to remember that government minders are present whenever citizens talk to foreigners, and those opposed to the Kim regime have been executed or mysteriously disappeared in the past.
Pak Su Won is a 66-year-old retired local physician. He says his motto is: “To devote myself to leader Kim Jong Un for the rest of my life. For him, and for the fatherland.”
Kim Hyon Ae is a seamstress at a shoe factory. She feels that she and her colleagues are leader Kim Jong Un’s adopted family because he once said that it was “his factory” when he visited. Her motto: “To repay the love and care which the Marshal has provided me, by working hard.”
In an interview with Time Out, Maye-E says the locals were often confused as to why she was so fascinated by their mundane, everyday activities. “I’m really just trying to capture these moments of everyday life that audiences in the outside world can relate to,” she said.
Source: Time Out