Joe Eaton is a former reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, the Washington City Paper, and the Roanoke Times. He now teaches at the University of Montana School of Journalism.
A photographer in a microlight aircraft shot 360-degree video over the secretive North Korean capital.
In September, as tensions ratcheted up over North Korea’s nuclear program, Aram Pan was high above Pyongyang as a passenger in a tiny, buzzing microlight aircraft, his video cameras pointed down at the North Korean capital.
Pan, a Singapore-based commercial photographer who has been traveling to North Korea since 2013, shot a 45-minute, 360-degree video of the city, recording a view that few outsiders have witnessed. Pan shot the video for NK News, an independent media organization with staff in Seoul and Washington, D.C.
The aerial 360-degree video, which Pan believes is the first shot over North Korea, shows such Pyongyang landmarks as the colossal May Day Stadium (2:15), the atom-shaped science and technology center (5:45), and the candy-colored array of waterfront high-rises on Mirae (Future) Scientists Street (4:58), said to have been constructed in less than a year to house faculty of Kim Chaek University.
Also seen: the cruise ship Mujigae (9:55), fountains spraying from the Taedong River (1:43), a smoke-belching factory (6:34), and the Yanggakdo International Hotel (4:00), where North Korean officials say University of Virginia student Otto Warmbier attempted to steal a propaganda poster. Warmbier was imprisoned for 17 months in North Korea and died soon after his release.
From the air, Pyongyang is oddly beautiful; its wide Soviet-style highways are nearly empty of cars, and its vast clusters of modernist towers—the product of a recent building boom—are painted festive pastel hues. “I’m quite amazed at how much this city has grown, considering most of it was flattened in the bombing of the Korean war just a generation ago,” Pan says in an e-mail interview.
This wasn’t Pan’s first flight in North Korea; he’s flown over the country multiple times in helicopters and light airplanes. He bought tickets for his most recent shoot at Mirim Air Club, which arranges tourist flights from a Pyongyang airport in ultralights.
Tourists are not usually allowed to take cameras or cellphones on these flights, but Pan received permission from North Korean officials—and he says state censors allowed him to keep most (but not all) of his footage. (Some edits are clearly visible.) “Long story short, they got me approval. I could bring any camera that was strapped or tethered to me, so they wouldn’t come falling from the sky.”