8th July 2020 marks the 26th year after the passing of North Korea’s President Kim Il Sung.
Nothing in North Korea is more iconic than the images of their leaders. The smiling faces of Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il can be found in homes, schools, offices, factories and public spaces. They are a constant reminder for the local population that they owe everything to their beloved leaders.
Several people have asked me “do North Koreans really worship their leaders as gods?”. The short answer is no. The long answer can be found in my other article: Religion In North Korea.
North Koreans have a deep respect for leadership; in fact, any form of leadership or hierarchy. It is a concept ingrained in their psyche from a young age. I had a very personal experience that helped me understand this.
It was back in 2016. Barack Hussein Obama was still the president of the United States. I was visiting Pyongyang and having dinner with my North Korean counterparts. We were discussing humour and were exchanging jokes.
I had the unusual idea to show them a photo of Obama’s face on toilet paper. (I had internet access at the time because I bought their very expensive 3G data SIM card for foreigners.) I wondered if a political biased novelty item would encourage a bigger response.
They immediately broke out into laughter at the sight of such a ridiculous product and asked which country hated USA so much that they would sell this toilet paper? I explained that it was a novelty item sold on Amazon.
After they realised it was a US online shopping company selling it to US citizens, the entire dinner atmosphere became very serious. They were uncomfortable at the disrespect they deemed US citizens had shown to their own president by even allowing such a product to be sold in the USA.
We had a brief discussion and I came to the understanding that North Koreans hold 3 concepts sacred: Respect for leaders, respect for rank/position and respect for seniority.
To them, it was unacceptable for anyone to make offensive jokes or remarks about their own leaders. Our casual and often mocking world view towards leadership seemed so strange to them.
I may never truly comprehend the level of reverence they have for their leaders, but this rare experience helped me understand them a lot better.
The Mansudae Grand Monument is a place where North Koreans come to manifest their admiration to their leaders, so it is not compulsory for foreigners and tourists to visit. You can opt out of visiting and North Koreans have no issues with that. Because it is one of the most revered grounds to them, they will expect you to show respect should you decide to visit.
The main figures of the leaders are flanked by two enormous groups of statues that dwarf any visitor to the place.
360° Panoramas 360
This is the world’s first floating camera 360° panoramic view of the Mansudae Grand Monument photographed with the express permission of the DPRK government on 12th May 2014. The point of view is set at 6 meters above ground level. The two statues of the late presidents are made of bronze and stand at 20 meters tall.
This night time image was photographed on 13th May 2014 at 8:49pm, during one of my evening walks around Pyongyang.
360° Floating Camera Video
Google Map 39°01’55.6″N 125°45’11.5″E
Wondering how I captured the elevated 360° video floating above the Koreans? I used a custom rig that mounts two Sony α6300 4K cameras back-to-back and attached Entaniya HAL 250 lenses to each of the cameras. I then used a 6 metre (19.69ft) tall carbon fiber tripod extension to lift the entire unit up in the air. The image you see below was the setup for my second “floating camera” shoot in September 2017.