How do you photograph one of the world’s most secretive countries?

Charlie Crane is an advertising and editorial photographer in the UK. But his most stunning work is a personal project that he shot a few years ago, in North Korea’s capital city.

“If there is no possibility of getting underneath the surface then the answer was to photograph the surface itself,” Crane writes in his artist statement. In other words: “Photograph what they want you to see.” Crane’s North Korean minders couldn’t have guessed that the resulting images would depict such a sterile, empty city. Save for a handful of people—who are almost invariably shot alone, against static backgrounds that make them look like department-store mannequins—Pyongyang looks totally abandoned. (You’d think the neutron bomb had just hit.) And yet these photographs are chillingly beautiful, and all the more poignant for the suffering they somehow manage to exclude from the frame.

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How do you photograph one of the world’s most secretive countries?