North Korea is an exceptional phenomenon: As a nation, it wields some of the greatest power in the world and yet even in the digital age has remained uncannily insular — at least in the eyes of the greater, global public. Although constitutionally a socialist republic, the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea, in technical terms, has endured nearly six decades of one-man dictatorship — one of history's longest-running, in fact.
And as tension escalates again on the Korean peninsula, LIFE has asked five photographers to share their stories of shooting in the secretive state. It's worth checking out this gallery on their site, which shows the scenes and shares the stories experienced by the photographers. "From the moment I arrived in North Korea, I had a very strong feeling that everything I witnessed was staged," Yannis Kontos is quoted as saying. To which he adds: "I'd estimate that 80 percent of my pictures were taken covertly."