Portraits of the leaders in a Pyongyang Metro car The Pyongyang Metro opened in 1973 and currently consists of two lines
Portraits of the leaders in a Pyongyang Metro car. The Pyongyang Metro opened in 1973 and currently consists of two linesEddo Hartmann—Koryo Studio
Portraits of the leaders in a Pyongyang Metro car The Pyongyang Metro opened in 1973 and currently consists of two lines
Statue of Kim Il Sung at Kaeson station,
Portrait of the Leaders, Jannamsan Hotel, Kaesong, Pyongyang. There are a number of portraits of the North Korean leaders, featuring specific backdrops or content that have been officially approved and are displayed throughout the country. Artists who have been specially trained in reproducing the image of the leaders create all these portraits at Mansudae Art Studio in Pyongyang
Yanggakdo HotelSituated on Yanggak Island is this 47-storey hotel. Despite the broad marble-clad foyer seen in other North Korean hotels; both the construction methods, and the wider architectural style of this 1995 hotel display a marked departure from the ways of the past, paving the way for the more modern architecture.
Rush hour | Pyongyang MetroThe stations contained within the Pyongyang Metro showcase distinct designs, usually featuring statues, mosaics, and a frequent use of marble; much of this subway system is reminiscent of the Moscow Metro’s opulent station interiors, which were built during the late-Stalin period.
Kim Il Sung SquareConstructed in the mid-1950s, this square lies in the centre of post-war Pyongyang, and was built in the same style as many of those found in the USSR. This area is a key focal point within the DPRK (North Korea), and plays host to all of the country’s most important and often seen military parades and mass rallies.
Sings display the date of Kim Il sung's birthday, which is April 15. That date is now a national holiday in North Korea
The entrance to Kim Il sung stadium. The marble pillars and expansive lobby are typical of the neoclassical style seen throughout Pyongyang
Kumsusan Palace of the SunA loudspeaker sits outside this building which originally functioned as the seat of government under Kim Il Sung (1912-1994), and today acts as his mausoleum, as well as that of his son, Kim Jong Il (1941-2011). These sorts of loudspeaker, which broadcast revolutionary music and messages from the Workers’ Party, are found in almost all public spaces throughout Pyongyang.
Portraits of the leaders in a Pyongyang Metro car. The Pyongyang Metro opened in 1973 and currently consists of two lin
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Eddo Hartmann—Koryo Studio
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See the Monumental Extravagance of North Korea's Architecture

Mar 18, 2015

North Korea is a country that seems to terrify and fascinate in equal measure.

On the world stage, it is often associated with its current and former leaders Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Il, who are branded tyrants but also noted for their ability to look at things and their stylish haircuts. Still others seem entranced by the socialist architecture of its capital, Pyongyang.

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Almost completely destroyed during the Korean War, the city was rebuilt from scratch and today provides one of the most striking examples of an entirely socialist-designed metropolis. In the photographs that circulate in the West, we see the perfection of its supersize statues, the neatness of its city squares, and the soaring, still unfinished Ryugyong Hotel. All of which seem like monuments to a giant, nation-encompassing personality cult.

In April 2014, Dutch photographer Eddo Hartmann set out to conquer his own fascination with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, kick-starting the project Setting the Stage: Pyongyang, North Korea.

Hartmann planned his trip for many months and teamed up with the Koryo Studio video team -- the art division of a Beijing-based travel company -- in order to help him get access. When he was on the ground, he had two North Korean guides with him at all times. He was told to use a digital camera, so authorities might check his work, and was not permitted to take photographs of military personnel or unfinished buildings -- standard practice for any visitor to the country. And so, while these images are the work of the photographer, they are certainly touched by the heavy hand of the North Korean state.

The resulting Pyongyang is expansive and largely empty. Its walls are clean, its subway platforms sparkle and in its lobbies, flowers bloom. This is art photography, though, not documentary photography. Unlike David Guttenfelder's work, we aren't getting snapshots of everyday life, but instead are being presented with a considered, slow-burning meditation -- one fascinated with public space.

There is a theatricality in Hartmann's stillness too: a woman appears to hide behind a foyer pillar, two speakers look poised to broadcast a state-approved announcement. And yet the photographer doesn't seem to want us to slam what we are seeing, nor to praise it. Instead, he calls attention to the global fascination with a country, and a city, that remains largely a mystery.

Eddo Hartmann is a photographer based in the Netherlands. Setting the Stage: Pyongyang, North Korea runs through June 7, 2015, at the Huis Marseille in Amsterdam

Richard Conway is reporter/producer for TIME LightBox

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