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Kim Jong Il

Original author: 
Ken Lyons

While threats of a missile launch have renewed tensions with North Korea, photojournalist David Guttenfelder has returned to continue documenting life there. As the world watches to see what North Korea’s next move will be in a high-stakes game of brinksmanship with the United States, residents of its capital aren’t hunkering down in bunkers and [...]

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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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Images from the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting were seen around the word. The photographs, showing both reaction and grief, were a reminder of the other tragedies from the year, including the Aurora theater shooting. In an image provided by NASA Tuesday Dec. 18, 2012 NASA’s Cassini spacecraft delivered a glorious view of [...]

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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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Ultra-Orthodox Jewish bride Nechama Paarel Horowitz fulfils the Mitzvah tantz during her traditional Jewish wedding with Chananya Yom Tov Lipa, the great-grandson of the Rabbi of the Wiznitz Hasidic followers, in the Israeli town of Petah Tikva near Tel Aviv, Israel. The Mitzvah tantz, in which family members and honored rabbis are invited to dance [...]

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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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The lunar new year is celebrated throughout the world, but especially in Asia when the lunisolar calendar ticks off a new cycle. This year is the Year of the Dragon on the Chinese zodiac, and is viewed as very auspicious. In China, the holiday is known as 春节, the Spring Festival, and kicks off 15 days of celebration. It also triggers the largest human migration in the world, as hundreds of millions of Chinese trek to see families. Gathered here are images of the preparation for the holiday, the travel scene in mainland China, and celebrations in many parts of the world. 新年快乐! -- Lane Turner/雷恩 (38 photos total)
Chinese folk artists perform the lion dance at a temple fair to celebrate the Lunar New Year on January 22, 2012 in Beijing. Also known as the Spring Festival, which is based on the Lunisolar calendar, it is celebrated from the first day of the first month of the lunar year and ends with the Lantern Festival on the Fifteenth day. (Feng Li/Getty Images)

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