The North Korean government is notoriously secretive. Upon entering the country, visitors are instructed on what they can and cannot take pictures of. Customs agents inspect your mobile phone and other digital devices, including cameras, tablets, and storage cards, for banned content.
These restrictions prompted Getty photographer Xiaolu Chu to travel by train through the country in August 2015, documenting everyday life through his phone lens. He told Tech Insider that whipping out his DSLR camera was too risky in some of the villages, where the locals reported sightings to the police.
While some images were deleted during run-ins with the police, Chu shared the remainder of his trip with us. Here’s what it was like:
Most Chinese tourists enter by train through Sinuiju or by plane through Pyongyang. He instead travelled to Russia so he could access the port at Tumangang.
The train ride from Tumangang to Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, lasts a day. It was canceled because of a dispute between North Korea and South Korea.
When he later returned to the train station, he noticed portraits of the country's former leaders and the words 'long live' scattered throughout.
At night, these shrines were the only structures lit up in the village. Other buildings were consumed by darkness.
A customs agent on board checked his tablet to make sure it wasn't GPS-enabled. The government also jams signals as a security measure.
He also checked his laptop and DSLR camera. Chu says the agent had no trouble operating the devices -- with the exception of the MacBook.
The train chugged along, giving Chu snapshots of everyday life. This boy was collecting corn cobs beside the tracks.
But anytime the train pulled into a station, there were painful reminders of the poor living conditions. This little boy begged for money at a station in Hamhung.
Whenever he hopped out, Chu shot photos on his phone. 'DSLR is too obvious to take pictures in that condition,' he says, 'as people in the village were extremely vigilant.'
Several locals reported him to the police. 'A policeman and a solider stopped us and checked our mobile phone. I hid most of the pictures, (but a) few pictures were deleted,' he says.
Tourism guidelines encourage visitors to take photos of the student-exercise groups. These kids were rehearsing for a celebration of the 70th anniversary of the Workers' Party of Korea.
Photography of anti-American protests is also welcomed. These students were marching against South Korea and the US.
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