North Korea remains a mystery to the outside world. A regime built around secrets and lies has largely succeeded in isolating its people from the rest of humanity. The 'Juche' doctrine, introduced by Kim Il Sung in the 1950s, calls for self-sufficiency in all aspects of life. Even as communism collapsed elsewhere and up to a million people died of starvation in the 1990s, the government did not waver from its course.Today, as ever, much of what is said and written about North Korea is based on little more than speculation. In October 2008, as rumours swirled about the ill health of Kim Jong Il and the regime threatened to destroy its southern neighbour, an unlikely rapprochement with the USA continued to gather pace. Truth and reality are hard to decipher.Adopting the persona of a Belgian chocolate magnate, complete with disguise and funny accent, Tomas van Houtryve made his second trip to North Korea in February 2008. Despite his credentials as a foreign businessman keen to invest in the country, he faced hours of interrogation, was threatened by apparatchiks, and at one point was almost exposed as a journalist. His bold tactics gave him access to factories, hospitals and government offices, some of which had never before been seen by a Western photographer. He was also able to catch a fleeting glimpse of the lives of ordinary people.
2008 POYi Magazine Photographer of the Year, 2nd Place