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September 17, 2008

Recent scenes from North Korea

Celebrating 60 years of existence this year, North Korea holds out as the last Stalinist state in the world. In such a restrictive society, it is difficult - if not impossible - for residents to get news of the outside world, and for the outside world to see in. What photography comes out of North Korea is either state-produced, state-approved, or at the very least state-managed (visitors are restricted in their movement). Still, if you look over the following images with those restrictions in mind, one can still get some idea of life in North Korea in 2008. These photos were all taken within the past six months - some taken from the borders, peering in, others provided by North Korea itself, and several generously shared by freelance photographer Eric Lafforgue, who recently spent some time inside the country. (32 photos total)

Young koreans hold up colored display cards to form a background image for a performance of North Korea's Mass Games on September 12, 2008. The Mass Games are designed to entertain or celebrate holidays, and place emphasis on group dynamics rather than individual prowess. This particular show's name is "Prosper the Motherland!", dedicated to the 60th Anniversary of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, celebrated on September 9th. (© Eric Lafforgue)

A North Korean propaganda village is seen from the Yeolsoe Observatory in the southern limited line in Yeoncheon, South Korea, about 62 km (39 miles) north of Seoul August 27, 2008. (REUTERS/Jo Yong-Hak) #

A North Korean man paddles his boat along the banks of the Yalu River in front of one of the the destroyed bridges that once linked China and North Korea, near the town of Qing Cheng, located around 50 kilometres north of the Chinese border city of Dandong September 12, 2008. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

A female soldier walks on a road in the countryside. Photographer Eric Lafforgue: "I do not know where they go, I do not know what they do, but when you're in the countryside, you see many soldiers walking... far from anything." (© Eric Lafforgue)#

Apartment houses in North Korea are seen across the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas from Kimpo city, north of Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, Sept. 10, 2008. (AP Photo/ Yonhap, Baek Seung-yul) #

A boat carrying North Korean soldiers travels along the Yalu River towards the North Korean town of Qing Cheng, located around 50 kilometres north of the Chinese border city of Dandong September 12, 2008. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

A swimmer from the "Yalu River Swimming Association" swims wearing goggles in the Yalu River opposite the North Korean town of Sinuiju, in the Chinese border city of Dandong September 12, 2008. Each day, in warm months, hundreds of Chinese swimmers plunge into the narrow Yalu river which divides their country from North Korea, with dozens kicking the 500 metres to the opposite side for a rest and a glimpse of the neighboring, withdrawn communist state. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

A North Korean man comes down a ladder in front of an abandoned factory complex along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Qing Cheng, September 12, 2008. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

A female North Korean soldier peers out from behind a tree as she patrols the border fence along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Qing Cheng, near the Chinese border city of Dandong September 12, 2008. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

A combination photo shows a North Korean soldier preparing his gun as a tourist boat approaches while he sits with fellow soldiers outside an army installation on the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, opposite the Chinese border city of Dandong September 13, 2008. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

Eric Lafforgue: "The highways in North Korea are huge and carless. Planes could land there. You can even see kids playing in the middle of the road. Security is a major problem because children and old people are not used to seeing cars, so they cross over the roads at any time, without watching out for oncoming traffic. The only cars you can see sometimes on highways are military ones, and most of them are stopped by the side of road, broken down. Or you can also see brand new Mercedes cars belonging to the North Korean officials passing by at very high speeds." (© Eric Lafforgue) #

Two North Korean soldiers observe the south side at the truce village of Panmunjom in the demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates the two Koreas since the Korean War, north of Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday, Sept. 11, 2008. (AP Photo/ Lee Jin-man) #

Three North Korean girls walk past their house along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Qing Cheng, near Dandong, China on September 12, 2008. In August, the United Nations World Food Program urged donors to separate politics from humanitarian aid as it appealed for US$60 million to help North Korea avert the worst food crisis it has faced since the 1990s. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

A North Korean woman washes clothes in front of houses along the banks of the Yalu River near the North Korean town of Qing Cheng, September 12, 2008. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

A woman carrying a baby on her back rides on a scooter with a North Korean soldier along the banks of the Yalu River near the town of Qing Cheng on September 12, 2008. (REUTERS/David Gray) #

Eric Lafforgue: "Pyongyang view, taken from Yanggakdo hotel. You can find a famous satellite picture on the net showing a map of the Korean peninsula by night, with a huge difference between the north and south. In North Korea, there is no public lighting, and people use very low wattage bulbs in their houses. The North Korean capital is as surreal by night as it is by day. Due to the fuel crisis there's hardly any traffic to be heard after dark, and nightlife is virtually non-existent. Only monuments are lit during local festivities. Every hour, on the hour, from 6 am to midnight, loudspeakers blast out a patriotic song. Tourists are totally forbidden from leaving their hotels to walk around town, even though Pyongyang is safe, that's the rule." (© Eric Lafforgue) #

A view of Pyongyang streets, with a glimpse of the Ryugyong Hotel, a 1,083-foot tall skyscraper that was abandoned in mid-construction in 1992. (center, pyramid-shaped building in the distance.) Eric Lafforgue: "On Sundays, cars are not allowed in Pyongyang. Only vehicles belonging to the army and government are allowed on the road. Officials claim that it's to prevent pollution." #

High-level North Korean officials take part in a mass meeting celebrating the country's 60th birthday in this picture distributed by North Korea's official news agency KCNA in Pyongyang September 8, 2008. The portrait in the huge North Korean national flag is the state founder and "Great Leader" Kim-Il Sung. The right side letters read, "Celebrate 60th birthday". North Korea's foundation day falls on September 9, 2008. (REUTERS/KCNA) #

North Korean citizens and soldiers participate in celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of North Korea in Pyongyang, September 9, 2008, in this picture distributed by North Korea's official news agency KCNA, September 10, 2008. (REUTERS/KCNA) #

In this photo released by China's Xinhua News Agency, female soldiers march across the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, while citizens hold up colorful bundles to form a large display on Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Xinhua, Zhang Binyang) #

North Korean soldiers parade through Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) #

Female soldiers and their antiaircraft artillery parade through Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008. North Korea marked the 60th anniversary of its founding Tuesday amid news reports that the communist country's leader Kim Jong Il did not attend a closely watched parade amid recent speculation that he may be ill. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) #

Thousands of North Korean people gather to watch and participate in a military parade through Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Tuesday, Sept. 9, 2008. (AP Photo/Kyodo News) #

A small gathering of North Korean soldiers in an informal moment. Eric Lafforgue: "Not an easy task to shoot a smiling soldier!" (© Eric Lafforgue) #

A soldier speaks with an attendant in the audience for the Mass Games in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Wally Santana) #

Over 100,000 participants perform in the Mass Games held in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Wally Santana) #

Young North Korean girls perform gymnastics alongside over 100,000 other participants perform in the Mass Games held in Pyongyang, North Korea, Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2008. (AP Photo/Wally Santana) #

Hundreds of young women performing in the September 12, 2008 performance of North Korea's Mass Games. (© Eric Lafforgue) #

Eric Lafforgue: "A ray of light during 'Prosper Our Country' Mass Games in Pyongyang stadium... I think there was more people on the ground than in the audience! Amazing show to see." (© Eric Lafforgue) #

Not only does North Korea stage Mass Games, it also has Mass Dances. Here, a young woman participant is seen on April 15, 2008. Eric Lafforgue: "More than 100,000 dancers were standing on the giant square. The audience was invited to join them. The music was performed by a live band. The show lasted for one hour, then the lights were turned off, and less than 5 minutes the square was empty and everybody goes home in the dark streets of Pyongyang." (© Eric Lafforgue) #

A girl is seen performing a patriotic song during a show at Mangyongdae School children's palace on April 17th, 2008. (© Eric Lafforgue) #

A child is seen outside a residential building in Pyongyang on April 12th, 2008. Eric Lafforgue: "On this sunday afternoon, all the kids were rehearsing for a Mass Game, and the parents too. So the buildings and and the streets around were totally void...Strange mood." (© Eric Lafforgue) #

 
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