North Korea Up Close: From the Bright Lights of Pyongyang to the Impoverished Countryside

A tale of two North Koreas. Left: A woman sits on a roadside near the town of Kimchaek on North Korea's northeast coast. Right: A traffic security officer stands on duty at an intersection in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
A traffic security officer stands on duty at an intersection in Pyongyang. Ed Jones/AFP

AFP photographer Ed Jones has been capturing everyday life in North Korea for several years. As one of the few Western journalists allowed to enter the secretive state on a regular basis, his access has generally been restricted to what the regime wants the world to see: Pyongyang's wide boulevards and pretty traffic policewomen, along with the country's regular choreographed mass propaganda events venerating its leaders past and present.

However, he has also traveled into North Korea's rural heartland, photographing the harsh realities of life in the poverty-stricken villages along the eastern coast up to the Chinese border. His photos show a world far from the gleaming skyscrapers in the showpiece capital. People wheel bicycles along unpaved roads; children pull handcarts loaded with firewood and animal feed; and farmers wash vegetables in polluted streams.

North Korean tourists look out at the city skyline from the Juche tower in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
The sun sets behind the 105-story Ryugyong Hotel in Pyongyang, which has still not opened, 31 years after construction began.Ed Jones/AFP
A tourist takes a selfie during a visit to a subway station in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
Visitors stand in an underwater tunnel inside an aquarium at the Central Zoo on the outskirts of Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
A man rides an electric bicycle along a street, with the skyline of Pyongyang's Mirae Scientists Street behind him.Ed Jones/AFP
People wait for a bus on the showcase Mirae Scientists Street in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
Students of the Pyongyang International Football School take part in an under-14 training session, in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
Youths play tennis in a public square in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
People play in a wave pool at a water park in a leisure complex in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
School children take part in a game of tug-of-war on Children's Union Foundation Day in PyongyangEd Jones/AFP
A man eats at a table outside a restaurant in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP
A man smokes a cigarette in a bar in Pyongyang.Ed Jones/AFP

AFP photographer Ed Jones has been capturing everyday life in North Korea for several years. As one of the few Western journalists allowed to enter the secretive state on a regular basis, his access has generally been restricted to what the regime wants the world to see: Pyongyang's wide boulevards and pretty traffic policewomen, along with the country's regular choreographed mass propaganda events venerating its leaders past and present.

However, he has also traveled into North Korea's rural heartland, photographing the harsh realities of life in the poverty-stricken villages along the eastern coast up to the Chinese border. His photos show a world far from the gleaming skyscrapers in the showpiece capital. People wheel bicycles along unpaved roads; children pull handcarts loaded with firewood and animal feed; and farmers wash vegetables in polluted streams.