Meet the photographer documenting life on the Korean Peninsula's DMZ

Sol Han, CNNPublished 29th May 2019
(CNN) — For some, it's a no-man's land and one of the world's most heavily militarized zones. For others, it's considered one of the most dangerous places on Earth.
There are many ways to describe the Korean Peninsula's Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ.
This 250-kilometer-long, four-kilometer-wide restricted area between North Korea and South Korea has captured imaginations and inspired anxieties about war since it was set up in 1953.
But for one South Korean photographer, the DMZ is more than just the site of a tenuous stalemate. Jeong Seung-ik has been working in and around DMZ for nearly 20 years, with the aim of documenting the day-to-day lives of soldiers for South Korea.
"Part of my work is to follow soldiers around, and I see young soldiers going into very dangerous places," says Jeong. "So although I think it's good to show the strong presence of our military, I try to catch their emotions as much as I can -- happiness and other various facial expressions, for example."

An oasis of nature inside the DMZ

It's not just military exercises and army fatigues that catch Jeong's attention while he's inside the DMZ. As a largely uninhabited symbol of an unfinished war, the area is a surprising wildlife oasis offering unadulterated vistas of natural scenes.
"As a military photographer, it's really interesting for me to see the traces of the war inside the DMZ, but also to capture how well-preserved the ecology is. So that's why I come here often," Jeong says.
"The most memorable photo I took inside the DMZ was one of cranes flying over a guard post. That photo made me realize how peace can be explained with just one image."
And peace, or the hope for it, is exactly what Jeong wants to show the world.
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines say it's estimated that more than two million landmines were laid in the DMZ.
Despite the fact there is an ongoing effort from the two countries and international community to de-mine the region, many remain undiscovered.
For over six decades, the Korean Demilitarized Zone has been closed off from human interference. As a result, wildlife is thriving. Here's a look inside.

Catching a glimpse of the DMZ

Because Jeong was hired by the South Korean military to document the DMZ, he has access to places that are not open to the general public. But he says there are still destinations travelers should visit for a glimpse of the DMZ.
These include the Baengmagoji Monument, a memorial to one of the Korean War's bloodiest battles, in which more than 17,000 people were killed, according to the Korea Tourism Organization.
On top of a hill, a 73-foot-tall monument and memorial hall greet you before you reach a viewing platform that looks out to the DMZ's restricted area. From there you can see a South Korean guard post as well as a North Korean guard post in the far distance.
The Korean DMZ, one of the world's most heavily militarized borders, welcomes more than 1.2 million travelers each year. Here's how to make the most of your visit.
The old Korean Worker's Party Headquarters in Cheorwon is another place where the memories of the Korean War linger in the bullet holes that pepper its crumbling façade. The abandoned building was built by the North Korean soldiers during their occupation of the area in the 1940s, in order to strengthen power and civil control of the area after Korea's liberation from Japanese colonialism.
The site was registered as South Korea's Modern Cultural Heritage no.22 in May, 2002.
"I think it's my role to make the DMZ known throughout the world," Jeong says, "So that even if reunification happens in the future, my photographs can preserve and protect the DMZ as it is now."