North Korea is under some of the strictest government controls in the world. Freedom of the press in 2013 was 177th out of 178 countries in a Reporters Without Borders index. But on the other side, what do we, those who do not live in the country, really know about what life there is like?

There is no doubt that bias and distortion occur about North Korea just as well as the media distortion that happens inside the country. Nonsensical stories about the country’s supreme leaders have abounded for years. In the words of one American reporter, “almost any story [on North Korea] is treated as broadly credible, no matter how outlandish or thinly sourced.”

Lost in this sea of misunderstanding are, of course, the people of the country itself. Belgian travel photographer David de Vleeschauwer decided to visit the country with “an open mind and the belief that something human lies behind…despite negative reporting in the West.”

In his words, “Traveling to the DPRK raises a corner of the veil for both sides. Perhaps this interaction will pave the way for more freedom and peace for everybody. Discovering one of the most secretive countries in the world does have its own strange aspects and rules.”

—Alexander Strecker

Editors’ Note: Don’t miss the rest of the winners, finalists and jurors’ picks from the LensCulture Portrait Awards 2015!