A North Korean boy works in a field of a collective farm in the area damaged by summer floods and typhoons.South Hwanghae Province, North Korea 10/6/2011
“The farmer boy in North Korea is a classic golden hour photo - not only for the colors and light, but also for how relaxed and real the frame is. People are more relaxed (and tired) by the end of the day so all their reaction towards the photographer, all the acting and posing, are gone. This very frame was shot on a rare trip to North Korea’s province controlled by officials. As we were driving back from a visit to a hospital in the area, I saw through the window of a bus a group of farmers working in the field. I asked the hosts if we could stop so I could take pictures of farmers working the land - they said yes, please take as many pictures as you want (everyone is relaxed at the end of the day). I went out and saw this child with a “perfect look” and decided to follow him for a few minutes. I would not have made a mistake if I followed any of the farmers but I guess the boy’s “empty” look, almost no reaction to me photographing and his outfit made a difference. I shot with the lens wide open to blur the background and have the focus on the boy’s face.” -photographer Damir Sagolj
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) remains the world’s longest-lived dictatorship, home to a near-perfect cult of personality that rulers like Stalin and Mao only dreamed of. Today, more than six decades after its post-World War II creation, North Korea endures as a true digital-age rarity: a land largely unrecorded, even while its influence — on the global stage and the world’s imagination — intensifies.
LIFE asked five award-winning photographers to share their stories and photos — some of which have never before been published in the U.S. — from their travels in the North. The hazards of journeying to the DPKR as a Western journalist, covertly or in plain sight, are as numerous as they are dire. Shooting there requires skill, strategy, and guts; the five photojournalists here risked all to reveal the enigmatic universe behind the North Korean curtain.