By Tom Dare
A VISITOR to North Korean used the ingenious technique of appearing to take selfies of himself in order to record his trip without attracting the attention of the autocratic regime’s feared security services.
Photographer and entrepreneur Ryan Gadzer, 38, visited the infamously secretive state in April this year to take part in a marathon arranged for Western visitors. While there, Ryan wanted to comprehensively document his trip, but was aware of the strict photography rules implemented by the regime for Westerners visiting the country.
So, he took the slightly unusual step of taking as many selfies as he could – in an attempt to capture as much of the country as possible in the backgrounds of his photos.
“Yes, I pretended to take selfies wherever I could in order to actually take photos of what was behind me,” he said.
“There were several occasions in our group where secret policemen materialized from out of nowhere and demanded to see cameras and deleted all photos. We were lucky that devices were not confiscated, because everything is so tightly controlled.
“People are watching us and there are watchers watching the watchers. It is impossible to lose something or get mugged here. Of course, it’s equally impossible to go wandering the streets on your own either, so this was the best way to do it!”
Ryan managed to capture upwards of two-hundred shots during his four-day trip, he says what struck him most about his visit was the malnourishment of the people living there.
“The people were uniformly thin, emaciated and frail,” he said.
“We were treated to lavish food in what they consider fancy restaurants, but I could easily tell that the staff serving us have not seen that much food in a month. The most startling thing I saw here is that nobody, not one single person, was obese or even fat enough to be considered normal.
“People just looked a lot thinner than normal, and it seemed like everyone was wearing oversized clothes.
“At the end of the day, a place is made up of its people. And these people are frail and emaciated.”
Ryan said that after having to be stringently vetted to visit the country in the first place, he found that all of his tours around the country were so tightly controlled that even the carrying of literature, both in and out of the country, was prohibited for fear of propaganda.
“You can get detained for carrying literature, proselytizing and for clicking photos,” he said.
“You are not allowed to bring in any written material into the country, as this is considered as contraband. You literally have to declare any books and written material you are carrying, and failure to do so means possible detention.
“At most airports and border check posts, you are checked for drugs or contraband. In North Korea, they check if you’re carrying books into the country. It’s really bizarre.
“I will not go back unless I get a free trip. It’s hard to get here!”