David Guttenfelder is the only western photographer to have had regular access to North Korea. In this 2012 photo, a military guide leads a tour to Mount Paektu. Here, according to lore, Kim Il Sung fought for independence from Japan in the 1930s.
Some of Our Favorite David Guttenfelder Photos
An ad in this year’s Oscars telecast features the well-traveled photojournalist who produced these unforgettable images.
In his years documenting the world for National Geographic and other publications, photojournalist David Guttenfelder has won fans, awards, and now, a starring spot in a TV ad.
Guttenfelder appears in and narrates a 30-second spot for the web design company Squarespace that will air during the Academy Awards on Sunday.
While many people wouldn’t hesitate to say yes to an offer to appear in one of the most coveted ad spaces in television, Guttenfelder had to give it some thought.
“Photojournalists spend their entire careers photographing other people's lives and stories,” he says. “It felt a little strange to be on the other side of the camera, to have the spotlight on me.”
A native of rural Iowa, Guttenfelder began taking photos as a child. His grandfather was an insurance auditor, and he gave young David a Polaroid camera to take photos of buildings to go with insurance reports. When he wasn’t “working,” Guttenfelder got to take the camera home.
Guttenfelder who is now represented by National Geographic Creative, grew up to be a National Geographic photography fellow, eight-time World Press Photo Award winner, the International Center for Photography Infinity Prize Winner, and an eight-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize. He’s lived and worked in more than 75 countries—including North Korea, which he’s visited more than 40 times. In 2013, Time named him the Instagram Photographer of the Year.
But that success isn’t why Guttenfelder ultimately decided to appear in the ad.
“What I cared most about was, simply, that it would respect the brotherhood and sisterhood of people who do this work,” he says. “I believe in it, and I put my life into it, and I hope that people will see that.”
When it came time to make the ad, “they asked me about those moments in my life where I had to decide to go forward, when everything says you shouldn't,” Guttenfelder says.
To recreate those moments, Squarespace worked with ad agency Anomaly to book a three-day film shoot in Chile. The country boasts landscapes that can stand in for Iowa, Afghanistan, western Africa, and other places where Guttenfelder has decided to go forward.
In the spot, Guttenfelder speaks out over gunfire, screams, and crackling fires: “Why do I do what I do? So everyone can see what I’ve seen.” Here is a collection of photographs that afford us that privilege.