Photo Editor

Women are seen and photographed through binoculars fixed on a building on the Chinese side of the border for sightseers to look across into North Korea. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

A tourist uses binoculars to look across to North Korea from a tower built on the Chinese side of the border between Russia, China and North Korea. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Peeking behind the closed doors of North Korea is always a fascinating exercise, but maybe even more so these days. Tensions between the United States and North Korea seem to have escalated with President Trump in office, but there have been surprising developments between the two countries, as well. Despite the ebb and flow of tensions over the past year or so, it seems increasingly likely that Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un are headed to a face-to-face meeting. Indeed, it was recently revealed that CIA Director Mike Pompeo, Trump’s nominee for secretary of state, made a clandestine trip to North Korea over the Easter weekend.

According to The Post’s Karoun Demirjian and Shane Harris, the meeting “did not broker any agreements, and the encounter was not the formal beginning of negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear program. … But Pompeo did help set the table for those negotiations to commence, when Kim and Trump meet in a yet-to-be-determined location.”

Again, now is a very interesting time to try to see what our counterparts in North Korea are up to. Over the years there have been a few photographers who have been able to peel back the curtain on the DPRK: Reuters photojournalist Damir Sagolj is one of them.

In November 2017, Sagolj and reporting partner Sue-Lin Wong embarked on a week-long road trip on the border between China and North Korea. Usually when we are presented with photos of North Korea, we mostly see a glimpse into the lives of the country’s elite living in Pyongyang. Sagolj and Wong’s trip didn’t focus on the capital city but on the lives being lived on the border. Of the trip, Sagolj told Reuters: “What we saw — from dirt-poor daily lives to clandestine economic activity on the Korean side — included scenes not yet witnessed in foreign media.” So instead of the now-familiar scenes of Kim Il Sung statues, women traffic cops and Pyongyang’s subway system, Sagolj’s photos show us less familiar scenes of North Koreans (and some tourists ogling them from afar) living on the border.

The trip wasn’t an easy one. Sagolj couldn’t photograph everything he saw. For example, he told Reuters what it was like to encounter the numerous checkpoints manned by armed Chinese soldiers along the way:

“I guess we were an odd couple — a Chinese Australian woman and a Bosnian man — and it was not surprising that the Chinese police stopped us at every one. Once identified, we were sent out of the area immediately with no further discussion. Simple as that. No hanging about to take pictures.

“So one part of the border — an impoverished and undeveloped section in the middle — remains a dark spot on our map. People say the Chinese are building up their military installations to prevent a possible influx of North Korean refugees if ‘something serious happens.’

“What they are doing, the soldiers told us, ‘is secret.’ ”

Although we may not be seeing all they encountered, it is a fascinating glimpse into a world we rarely see.


A sign reading “Take the initiative to preserve order along the border” stands in a field at the border between China and North Korea just outside Dandong, China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

A North Korean woman is photographed from the Chinese side of the Yalu River near the town of Changbai, China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

Women walk across a bridge from an island on the Yalu River, dividing North Korea and China, in the town of Linjiang, China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

North Korean fishermen are seen as a Chinese flag flutters from the Broken Bridge as the sun sets over the Yalu River, China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

People have their picture taken with North Korea in the background in Tumen, China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

A North Korean watchtower is photographed from the Chinese side of the Yalu River east of Linjiang, China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

North Korean women are photographed from the Chinese side of the border near the town of Changbai, China, as they wash clothes in the frozen Yalu River near the North Korean town of Hyesan. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

North Koreans are photographed from the Chinese side of the border south of Changbai in China as they make their way through a small village south of Hyesan in North Korea. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

North Koreans are photographed from the Chinese side of the border as they stand next to the freezing Yalu River near the town of Linjiang, China. Chinese locals told the photographer that the people were searching for gold. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

North Korean girls are photographed from the Chinese side of the border as they collect water from the frozen Yalu River near Linjiang, China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

A Ferris wheel, photographed from the Chinese side of the border across the Yalu River from Dandong in Liaoning Province, China, is seen near the town of Sinuiju in North Korea. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

A large screen, which faces North Korea, broadcasts propaganda videos on an island on the Yalu River between North Korea and China. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

A North Korean man is photographed from the Chinese side of the border south of Changbai in China as he carries buckets of water from the frozen Yalu River south of Hyesan in North Korea. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

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