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We all look at things. Loved ones, traffic lights, television, the sky — you name it, we look at it. Along with reasoning, and the conscious use of tools, looking at things is an integral aspect of the human experience. In North Korea, this elemental, quotidian activity has been transformed, ingeniously, into a propaganda device for the country’s regime. The beauty of that transformation, meanwhile, is that one culture’s propaganda is another’s source of humor, and wonder.

Case in point: the popular, uncannily simple blog, “Kim Jong Il Looking at Things.” Launched in October 2010 by a Lisbon-based art director named João Rocha, KJILAT is nothing more and nothing less than what it purports to be: a series of photographs of the Dear Leader looking at things.

Jean Boîte Éditions

A selection of these compelling photos have now been published in a book by Jean Boîte Éditions: Kim Jong Il Looking at Things. The pictures, originally distributed by the official Korean Central News Agency, depict the late North Korean leader, always accompanied by an entourage of compatriots who appear both fawning and terrified, examining objects ranging from machinery to snack food. The images are, one presumes, meant to celebrate the notion of North Korean independence and superiority by illustrating Kim Jong Il’s endorsement of products and services manufactured or offered by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. The spare, almost clinical look of the images, meanwhile, coupled with the often profoundly mundane nature of the objects at hand lend the entire portfolio a tone that is one part humorous and three parts crazy.

Visual Culture Blog curator Marco Bohr contributed an essay to the book, analyzing how and why both the blog and the book versions of “Kim Jong Il Looking at Things” succeed on their own, admittedly streamlined terms. Bohr suggests that the blog and book tap into a type of unpretentious humor “by using matter-of-fact captions that, firstly, withhold any subjective opinion, and secondly, do not self-consciously attempt to be funny in the first place.” The success of the meme “relies on deconstructing the ridiculousness of [Kim's] propaganda apparatus.”

The book is the newest installment in Jean Boîte Éditions’ series, FOLLOW ME, Collecting Images Today, which seeks “to highlight another art scene, [one that] establishes the online collector as a creator, and the ephemeral in the perennial.”

A spin-off blog featuring the Dear Leader’s son and successor, Kim Jong Un, was launched hours after the announcement of Kim Jong Il’s death on Dec. 18, 2011. The original blog, which continued to add images for a full year after its subject’s death, posted its final image in late December, as Rocha reached the end of his archive.

Fortunately for all of us, the Dear Leader lives on in Rocha’s book, where we can look at him looking at things to our collective hearts’ content.

Kim Jong Il Looking at Things was published by Jean Boîte Éditions in December 2012.

Tanner Curtis is an associate photo editor at TIME.com.

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Victoria Mitchell of VIC clears the water steeple during the Womens 3000 Metre Steeple Open during day two of the Australian Athletics Championships at Lakeside Stadium on April 14, 2012 in Melbourne, Australia. North Korean people hold up plastic flowers during an unveiling ceremony of two statues of former leaders Kim Jong-Il and Kim Il-Sung [...]

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Like father, like son. Since the recent death of Kim Jong Il, North Korean state-run media has been releasing a series of images of the "Great Successor," Kim Jong Un, visiting schools, factories, and military facilities. These visits, which were frequently publicized by his father and his grandfather Kim Il Sung, are called "field guidance" trips -- opportunities for the supreme leader to give on-the-spot advice. For decades, the North Korean myth-making machine endowed Kim Jong Il with amazing wisdom, prowess, and intelligence, and it continues that tradition now with his son, touting him as a marksman, poet, economic genius, and wise military strategist. Little is actually known about Kim Jong Un. Even his age remains in doubt -- he may be 28, 29, or 30. Based on the state-released photos collected here, he is following closely in his father's footsteps, albeit with a touch more visible affection. [35 photos]

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (center) watches flight training as he visits Unit 1017 of the Korean People's Army Air Force in an undisclosed location in this undated recent picture released by the North's KCNA in Pyongyang, on January 31, 2012. (Reuters/KCNA)

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North Koreans have shown extraordinary displays of grief in the days since the death of their leader Kim Jong Il on December 17th. Today marked the start of a two-day funeral ceremony, as thousands of North Koreans lined the snowy streets of Pyongyang to witness the procession of vehicles as it made its way to Kumsusan Memorial Palace. Official North Korean news sources have been declaring Kim Jong Un the "great successor," but questions about the transition and future governance of the volatile, secretive state continue to make foreign governments wary. South Korean intelligence recently indicated that North Korea has tightened security in cities, put troops on alert and won loyalty pledges from top generals after Kim's death as it consolidates power behind the anointed heir. Collected here are images -- most of them official North Korean releases -- of the public mourning in North Korea. [32 photos]

North Koreans make a call of condolence for deceased leader Kim Jong Il at the Kim Il Sung Plaza in Pyongyang in this picture released by the North's official KCNA news agency early December 21, 2011. (Reuters/KCNA)

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Early this morning, North Korean state television reported the death of North Korea's longtime ruler Kim Jong Il. Kim reportedly died two days earlier, on Saturday, December 17, 2011, suffering a heart attack while riding on a train outside Pyongyang. The 69-year-old had been North Korea's "supreme leader" since 1994, after succeeding his father, Kim Il Sung, the founder of the communist state. Kim Jong Il presided over a long-suffering, isolated nation, antagonized the western world, indulged himself while millions starved, and funneled much of the country's meager funds into military spending and the pursuit of nuclear weapons. His nominal successor, son Kim Jong Un, remains untested and the sudden power vacuum in such an unpredictable nation has neighbors, allies, and enemies on edge. Collected here are images from the life and times of North Korea's Kim Jong Il, and a few recent images from the reclusive country and those who have noted his passing. [See also Inside North Korea from August, 2011.] [36 photos]

In this April 25, 2002 photo from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency, leader Kim Jong Il salutes the people at the military parade by the Worker and Peasant Red Guard that celebrates the 90th anniversary of leader Kim Il Sung and the 70th anniversary of the North Korean People's Army. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP Images)

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