A while back, I reported on the DPRK’s recent easing of technological restrictions – namely flipping on cell phone coverage and allowing some foreign journalists to send live Twitter/Instagram updates. While this seems like a non-trivial concession, it doesn’t change the fact that foreign correspondents are under tight scrutiny after touching down in North Korea.
In juxtaposing his photographic work with amusing anecdotes, Jason Lee’s “Five Days with my North Korean Minders” is a first-hand account of the human side of the journalistic control apparatus. Lee details the conflicting relationship between himself, his camera, and his two omnipresent North Korean keepers while on assignment with Reuters to shoot the Arirang games in July. The whole photo blog is worth a read, but I will highlight one snippet here:
The top arm (I assume) is Lee’s, while the bottom arm is his minder’s, who maintained a firm grasp on the camera’s monopod during the Mass Games to physically control when — and in which direction — Lee could shoot. Note the nice gold watch on the wrist of the minder; think he paid for that with his official government salary? It’s a highly symbolic image, journalist and minder literally fighting for control of the camera.
Lee was upfront about his objectives; he was there to shoot “a nation of 22 million people showing a depression and weakness of spirit that I tried my best to interpret through my cameras.” He is also under his own pressures. How many pictures of the mass games and monuments do we need? Everyone is looking for that one sneaky shot of the DPRK’s darker side.
Reporters Without Borders ranked press freedom in North Korea as the world’s worst until it was usurped by Eritrea in 2007 (it is in second to last place as of 2013). However, with the DPRK sometimes allowing more press in than there are minders to handle them, and the marginal opening of the country increasing the opportunity for more deceptive shenanigans, something may eventually have to give.