Slideshow: American Tourist Photographs Closed North Korea

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Lisa Mullins: I'm Lisa Mullins and this is The World, a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI, and WGBH in Boston. Two days of nuclear talks between the US and North Korea ended today without an agreement. The US wants North Korea to reopen its nuclear program to inspections. Today Chief American Negotiator Steven Bosworth said the sessions were positive, but fruitless.

Steve Bosworth: We came to the conclusion that we will need more time and more discussion to reach an agreement in an effort to assess whether we have sufficient agreement to resume our active negotiations, both bilaterally and in the six party process.

Mullins: These latest US-North Korea talks were held in Switzerland. Authorities in Pyong Yang don't like to host visitors, but some people are allowed in. Sam Gellman had the chance to visit the country as a tourist back in September. Gellman works in Financial Services in Hong Kong. Every moment of his four day tour of North Korea was tightly supervised, but he took and he took a lot of pictures and his photos, which are now posted on Flickr have been viewed by nearly a quarter of a million people. Sam Gellman says some of his best images show something called "The Mass Games"

Sam Gellman: The Mass Games are that it's a one hundred thousand person performance which is just kind of a grand spectacle full of propaganda and it's a show that I think that they're very proud of.

Mullins: So you were there at the Mass Games and a lot of folks will recognize the descriptions that you provide and the pictures, in fact, that you provide which are stunningly beautiful pictures, but this is basically, as you say, images of human pixels. Tell us what the set up was like and what you mean by that term.

Gellman: That's just kind of a term I have used myself and you have tens of thousands of performers and the probably more interesting part is in the background which you might be able to see in some of those images. You have thirty thousand children who have these individual signboards and they flip the signboards kind of in rhythm with each other and to a very very distinct, you know, cue and those create incredible images that are constantly changing and they can go from being the North Korean flag to a picture of Kim Il-sung to a boy playing a beach ball and then individual kids will just flip their signs so, you know, everybody is the same, but the beach ball flies across that side of the stands.

Mullins: And this is like split second accuracy?

Gellman: Split second accuracy, yeah. I mean you even have little things like cars driving up mountains and that's pretty incredible to watch. I mean perhaps a little strange that, you know, thirty thousand children are doing it.

Mullins: Do you have a favorite photo of your own?

Gellman: I think some of the Mass Games pictures are visually very appealing. I like one picture of the soldier in the bumper car. Yeah, we spent a few hours a kind of like a carnival type event where, you know, we're playing bumper cars with soldiers and I found that festival really interesting because it was an opportunity to really kind of interact with people in a much more fun way and, you know, a lot of the soldiers would have their kids with them and clearly these are people who, you know, on a Saturday night want to have fun with their kids just like you or me. I think there were little moments like that where you really get the sense that regardless of how much our countries probably kind of dislike each other, that you can kind of break through that.

Mullins: You know, one picture that I'm kind of marveling at as I look at it, unusual to be able to get a North Korean soldier to smile, but also smile for the camera and you got it.

Gellman: That was actually pretty interesting because we were at the border between the North and South Korea and the soldier gave us a tour and spent a lot of the time talking about kind of American Imperialism and Americans occupying the South and South Korea, saying negative things about Americans and then after the tour, he was more than happy to have his picture taken. I mean at those moments you realize that in some ways these are just people who are doing their jobs and people tend to be friendly when other people smile at them and he was no different.

Mullins: Were you ever stopped from taking a photo of anything?

Gellman: Yeah, yeah. I mean, you know, you have to be careful about what you take pictures of I think. I mean you don't want to take pictures that make the country look poor. Those are clearly pictures the pictures they don't want.

Mullins: Was it worth it?

Gellman: I think it is worth it. I think, you know, you go to places like North Korea, you go to, I've been, I've spent ten days in Myanmar, you know, and these are countries where the people have very little exposure to foreigners. I think there is kind of a real fear of the unknown and as just someone who goes into these countries and tries to be friendly and kind of have moments where you are actually hanging out with people who probably were afraid of you ten minutes earlier I think is worth doing. You know, that, for me, I'm just most intrigued by the fact that the people are in many ways similar to us and I think that experience is worth it.

Mullins: Alright. Sam Gellman, thank you very much.

Gellman: No problem.

Mullins: You can see Sam Gellman's captivating photos from the thousands of North Koreans moving in unison in the Mass Games to the picture of the soldier in a bumper car. The slide show is at the theworld.org.