2016 Photo Contest, Long-Term Projects, Stories, 3rd prize

North Korea: Life in the Cult of Kim


David Guttenfelder

The Associated Press

16 February, 2012

Women perform in a massed synchronized swimming show to commemorate the birthday of the late leader Kim Jong-il, the day before he would have turned 70. As a grand finale they performed to the song, ‘We Will Defend General Kim Jong-un at the Risk of Our Lives’.

North Korea emerged in the upheaval following the end of World War II and the Korean War, and for six decades has been one of the most isolated and secretive nations on earth. Its history is dominated by the founding president, Kim Il-sung, known as the Great Leader. He shaped political affairs for almost half a century, establishing a totalitarian state which shut itself off from the outside world. A leadership cult has grown around the Kim dynasty, passing from Kim Il-sung to his son Kim Jong-il (the Dear Leader) and grandson, the current supreme leader Kim Jong-un.

The country is run along rigidly state-controlled lines. Local media are strictly regulated, and the foreign press largely excluded. The photographer was granted rare access, visiting North Korea on some 40 occasions between 2008 and 2015. He photographed not only large state-orchestrated events, but also everyday rural life.

About the photographer

David Guttenfelder

Guttenfelder previously spent 20 years as a photojournalist for the Associated Press based in Nairobi, Abidjan, New Delhi, and Tokyo covering news in more than 75 countries aroun...

Technical information

Shutter Speed
Focal length
89.0 mm
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV

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