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Visiting North Korea with a Polaroid

I have to admit the novelty of seeing photos snapped by Western photographers visiting North Korea, one of the world’s most isolated locales, has worn off. I would argue that some photographers now almost fetishize the society’s strict, barren and guarded nature. All those visits are tightly controlled by the state and its minders who restrict not only where the photographers can go, see, and who they talk to, but also the specific angle at which they take a photo. If taking a photo of Kim Jong Il, for example, you must do so standing directly in front of him.

But Reuters photographer Carlos Barria traveled to North Korea and broke this mold, thanks to a unique approach – one that I think left something positive behind for the local people once he departed. Barria used a Polaroid camera to take two photos, one for him and one for his subject, some of whom, like the shop keeper pictured above, had never seen a photo of themselves. As a hostess at an auditorium explained, “Visitors take pictures of me all the time, but I have never had a picture of myself.” That’s a remarkable juxtaposition to our American digital Facebook culture where people display hundreds, if not more, photos of themselves. See more photos from his trip here.