To gain access to shoot in North Korea’s biggest steel plant was quite a diplomatic achievement and I feel fairly confident that I was the first western photographer to be given permission to shoot there. I would imagine that factories in Sheffield and Pittsburg looked like this in the 1950s but perhaps not now.
Trust was everything during my time in North Korea in 2017 and it was imperative to emotionally invest in the men assigned to me. North Koreans have a drinking culture and the first thing I did was give them some bottles of Scotch Whisky that I had brought in. I also didn't take my camera out for the first 24 hours in the country. I asked permission every time to take a picture and I worked my way gently in so that they became more comfortable with me. From the outset, I could see that they were nervous - more nervous than me.
In total we travelled more than 800 km, often through stunning countryside.
It was a process of constant negotiation and being told “no” a great deal. But the more “no’s”, the greater the chance of the occasional “yes”. The DPRK Government officials wanted me to be happy with their service, but equally they didn't want to receive any rebuke from the powers above. The latter was always going to hold sway and this made the assignment a challenge. But I think I did all I could and perhaps a little more. This photograph reminds me of Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner - and I felt immediately that it was better in colour - the greens help in particular. I remember one of the first people I showed this photograph to when I returned from Pyongyang was Warren Beatty - and what a thrill that was. Beatty has always been fascinated with communism and Korea and of course co-wrote, directed, produced and starred in Reds way back in 1981.