North Korea may still be in the process of opening its borders to the outside world — to the U.S., at least — but it already has something other than McDonald’s it welcomes without fuss: a social media star.
Meet Aram Pan, a Singaporean photographer with a flair for all things North Korean.
His project, titled DPRK360, aims to show a “different perspective” on the hermit state.
“DPRK360 is a collection of videos, photographs and 360-degree panoramas that I’ve collected over the course of a few years through my journey in North Korea,” he told BBC in a video interview.
“I just snap photos, capture videos. When I come back I download everything onto this massive hard drive.”
Pan is on Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, where millions are treated with an unprecedented view of places across the country.
In the project’s website, he acknowledges both those who approve and oppose his work.
“Ever since I started this project, I’ve encountered two extreme types of people. Those who oppose my project because they deemed it to glorify socialism (or communism); and those who approve of my project because they deemed it to be anti-capitalist. The last thing I want is for this project to become a tool for either side to use as ammunition against each other.
“All I can say is that the DPRK 360 project is nothing more than my own journey of discovery. I publish whatever I see and experience. What you see is what I saw in North Korea.”
Last year, Pan captured a 360-degree view of Pyongyang aboard a microlight aircraft. For the record, tourists are usually prohibited from taking cameras or mobile phones during such flights, but he somehow managed to receive permission from state officials.
“Long story short, they got me approval. I could bring any camera that was strapped or tethered to me, so they wouldn’t come falling from the sky,” he told CityLab.
“It was quite an exhilarating experience overall. I felt quite privileged as being allowed to fly over Pyongyang in a light plane was usually reserved only for diplomats.”
To date, Pan has made 16 trips to North Korea since he started the project in 2013. Apparently, everything started out of “curiosity.”
And despite all the international pressure on Pyongyang, he even managed to score private sponsorship for some of his work.
“When I first started off I honestly wasn’t really sure how this would grow and even if I would get two or three more trips,” he told NK News.
Pan concedes that his work warrants some form of self-censorship so that it continues without issue.
But while his content show “what the government wants people to see,” he argued that they also “show stuff that generally people don’t get to see, scenes of everyday life.”
“This gives me opportunity to open the window into the private lives of the North Koreans – to see at the side alleys old men playing chess, a cobbler, people just going about everyday life; stuff like that.”
Many people might not know this, but NextShark is a small media startup that runs on no outside funding or loans, and with no paywalls or subscription fees, we rely on help from our community and readers like you.
Everything you see today is built by Asians, for Asians to help amplify our voices globally and support each other. However, we still face many difficulties in our industry because of our commitment to accessible and informational Asian news coverage.
We hope you consider making a contribution to NextShark so we can continue to provide you quality journalism that informs, educates, and inspires the Asian community. Even a $1 contribution goes a long way. Thank you for supporting NextShark and our community.