Shanghai-based photographer Ni Chen describes her time in North Korea as a surreal step back in time. “To be honest, whilst I don’t know much about North Korean politics, I was intrigued by this social system, one which was a stark contrast to anything that I have experienced before.” The most notable difference for her was the colors — or rather, the lack thereof. Pyongyang’s color palette consisted of blacks, grays, and navy blues. Shades of red, blue, and green were almost exclusively reserved for public facilities and ornaments.
Ni Chen’s time in North Korea was split between Pyongyang and Kaesong; as most of the journey was heavily regulated, she was unable to capture some “truly beautiful” moments on camera. “After stepping out of the Pyongyang Railway Station, I found myself facing an iron-clad playground; it was a beautiful moment, observing these free-spirited kids playing. A shame that I couldn’t photograph them.” On her way to Kaesong, there was also an almost cinematic moment when a young boy stood on a hillside, watching their tour group’s bus drive by. He wore a green sweater and stared inquisitively at the vehicle as three crows flew past him. “That moment was so beautiful, it felt so much like a scene from an Andrei Tarkovsky film.”
Ni Chen also visited the Pyongyang city library, which like typical libraries, feature a collection of books that are available for borrowing, but also courses for learning foreign languages. The most intriguing part of the visit was seeing how the computers in the library could only be accessed using LAN; locals are only able to use them to log on to North Korea’s tightly controlled Kwangmyong intranet system.
平壤市内的图书馆，除了借阅图书，还可以学习外语课程。图书馆内的电脑只能使用局域网, 人们可以登录到朝鲜的国家局域网路“光明网”（Kwangmyong Net）。
She also observed that the capital’s architecture was noticeably Soviet in style. Korean signage aside, this moment brought Ni Chen back to her time traveling and photographing Russia.
During the trip, one image of a girl reading on a public bus became one of Ni Chen’s favorites. “This was a candid moment that would not look out of place anywhere in the world.”
Once outside of Pyongyang, Ni Chen managed to capture a moment that is truly out of the norm for most photographers that travel to North Korea. In the city of Kaesong, she serendipitously stumbled across a wedding. “They were just as surprised to see me as I was to find them. I could only guess that the collective reciting of revolutionary history and their fist pump actions were part of the ceremony.”
Towards the end of her journey, she snapped an image of the small shark tank in the lobby of Pyongyang’s Yanggakdo International Hotel. “Whilst this hotel looked impressive from the outside, the furnishings and facilities inside reminded me of a local police station in one of China’s third or fourth-tier cities. This shark tank sort of symbolized North Korea as a whole to me – it’s a small nation that is trying so hard to appear terrifying.”