AFP photographer Ed Jones is one of the few Western journalists allowed to enter North Korea on a regular basis. In addition to photographing mass military parades and spectacular propaganda events venerating the country's leaders past and present, Jones captures daily life on the streets of Pyongyang.
His photos are remarkable for just how unremarkable everything seems – commuters travelling to and from work, children playing football or visiting museums – but as has been well documented, they do not reflect the reality of life in poverty-stricken rural villages outside the showcase capital.
Pyongyang is easily the most developed city in North Korea and is relatively comfortable for the increasingly affluent segment of its three million inhabitants. Smartphones, traffic jams, restaurants, taxis and gleaming new high rise apartments blocks – this could almost be any city in the world (were it not for all the portraits and statues of Kim il-Sung and Kim Jong-il and propaganda posters trumpeting recent successful missile launches).
Jones's movements are closely controlled, but he is generally allowed to photograph whatever he sees within Pyongyang and on supervised trips outside the city. In an interview with Korea Photo Review, he said: "During trips outside Pyongyang we often pass towns and villages that I would love to stop and shoot in, but which for obvious reasons is for the most part not possible."
AFP opened a bureau in Pyongyang in September 2016, allowing Jones to travel from Seoul to Pyongyang (via Beijing) every six weeks or so, spending up to 14 days at a time there. Although North Koreans are still wary of foreign media, Jones has been working on a portrait series, Faces of Pyongyang.
"Initially," he said, "We approached people who we felt were more likely to agree to have their photos taken, such as tour guides at the various monuments around Pyongyang that are easy to visit. But we were quickly able to expand our approach to include others." Jones says most people are pretty happy to have their portraits taken, and he often visits them on subsequent trips to take them prints.
Jones told IBTimes UK: "Covering North Korea presents a number of unique challenges. Access to places, events and people is often restricted. Photographing daily life is very much a priority. Even the most mundane events or outings can often yield worthwhile images that, taken together, provide some insight, even if the wider picture is often obscured or out of view completely."