South African photographer cap

South African photographer captures the other side of North Korea [in pictures]

“Hopefully I can play a part in changing the misconceptions about North Korea by photographing its people in the most natural of ways”

South African photographer cap

“Pyongyang is like no other place on earth,” says South African photographer, Joel Thackwray.

The 27-year-old ventured into the North Korean capital from Hong Kong, where he had been living for two years. He opted to catch a train in from Dandong, in order to get the full experience.

NK country

“North Korea had always intrigued me and while living in Hong Kong, I decided I had to at least try get in and see things for myself.”

North Korea

In seeing things for himself, Joel managed to capture a softer side of North Korea by focusing on its people. And so, through his photographs, we are able to experience North Korea from another angle.

North Korea ladies 2

“One moment that will always stay with me was experiencing rural life in the North Korean country side. We did this while drinking beer and eating dry fish with North Korean soldiers.”

"My travel companion, Wesley Hannam arm wrestling one of our new friends."
“My travel companion, Wesley Hannam, arm wrestling one of our new friends.”

North Korea soldiers

Pyongyang is absolutely spotless. “Most are dressed in military uniform and it’s completely free from the media bombardment you usually get in capital cities.”

North Korea military

North Korea

When a language barrier arises, smiling becomes a universal language.

North Korea

“My biggest surprise was being taken aside by my guide and asked if I could get him ‘Agra… Viagra…. The make STRONG pill!’ This came along with a winning charades performance and I couldn’t help but laugh.”

North Korea

“Through photographing the people of North Korea, I began to see them as the beautiful humans that they are.”

North Korean woman

mass games

“Just as Mugabe doesn’t represent every Zimbabwean, so Kim Jong-un doesn’t define every North Korean. North Koreans are friendly, respectful and quite notably radiate a national pride like no other.”

North Korea

North Korea

“I have a lot of respect for Shin Dong-hyuk. His passion to help his people after escaping one of North Korea’s prison camps make him, in my mind, like a living Anne Frank or Nelson Mandela.”

North Korea

“My time in North Korea gave me a new appreciation for our South African democracy. Its a long road ahead, but I feel that its getting there slowly. North Korea just needs the right attention.”

North Korea rural


Photos by Joel Thackwray