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Ever the sporty type, Matthieu Tordeur was lucky enough to recently run the famous Pyongyang marathon in North Korea, and spend five days in this mysterious country. In April 2016, alongside 1,800 other runners from across the world, Tordeur was able to uncover a new and strange culture, one of secrets and politics.

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Tourism is a well-oiled machine in North Korea

For a long time, if you were actually able to get to North Korea, you certainly weren’t able to take your camera, but Tordeur visited following a relaxing of these rules. “Tourism is a well-oiled machine in North Korea all the same,” he explains.

“There are no opportunities for visitors to wander freely around the country, you are accompanied by two guides throughout the duration of your stay. Your passport is taken away from you on arrival and returned only once you leave following an extensive airport search which includes going through all of your personal affairs and photographs. This is the compromise one faces in exchange for visiting North Korea, it is fascinating as it is terrifying and strange.”

The North Korea photographs brought back from Pyongyang by Tordeur only illustrate a small portion of his trip, his camera too was vetted by authorities before he left who scrupulously checked image by image to make sure they were in line with the country’s desired international image.

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A giant film set

When looking at North Korea photographs, we get the impression that everything they contain is calculated and acted out, these are certainly not natural candid snaps. The smiles of residents seem fixed. And there is no doubt that the adulation they feel for their leader Kim Jong-un radiates through these photos, with his indirect presence everywhere in many of the shots of daily life.

“Over the five days I had the strange feeling that I had found myself on a giant film set where the plot was an elaborate celebration of socialism and authoritarian leaders, and where the actors and extras were playing patriots who did not display a shadow of doubt or contestation.”

This kind of trip does not leave one indifferent and can present a rather shocking reality. Tordeur was able to live in a 21st century communist regime for five days in total immersion. According to him “the presence of foreign visitors provided an oppressed people a sense of a tangible outside world. Which can’t be a bad thing.”

Other than the wacky totalitarian regime, Tordeur has some great memories from his marathon. He described his trip as a “moving human experience, where sporting values know no bounds.”

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All photographs © Matthieu Tordeur

Original article by Donnia Ghezlane-Lal on konbini.

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