Photographer Tomas Van Houtryve began exploring North Korea's borders after two trips inside the country in 2007 and 2008. "Although the view from the inside was fascinating, it was also distorted," he says, noting that the experience was shaped by guides and government agents pushing regime propaganda. So he turned to the country's borders for what he calls "a more honest visual reflection of North Korea's relations to its neighbors and the world." Van Houtryve spent 10 weeks along the 154-mile dividing line between South and North Korea, as part of a larger project to document the frontiers of the Hermit Kingdom, which also included trips to the North Korea-China border and visits with North Korean refugees.
At the line dividing North from South, Van Houtryve says, "fear and paranoia are the ruling elements."
"I encountered every range of fortification imaginable: triple razor-wire fences, concrete walls, land mines, anti-tank columns, trenches, road blocks, tunnels, bunkers, watch towers, and, of course, South Korean and American military bases," he says. "There is even an immense dam with an empty reservoir built at a cost of $429 million on the South Korean side of the DMZ -- a preventative measure just in case North Korea unleashes a flood from their reservoir on the other side."
During his trip, Van Houtryve gained access to areas under strict control and rarely photographed, including military installations. Here's an exclusive look at some of the images he collected along the world's hottest border.
Above, South Korean soldiers warm up in a greenhouse after training in the cold. The winter training takes place at a ski resort in the town of Pyeong Chang-gun, just south of the demilitarized zone (DMZ).
Tomas Van Houtryve