João Rocha’s photobook “Kim Jong Il Looking at Things” has become a cult-like classic since its publication in 2012. In it, Rocha collects comical, even bizarre images published by the official PR agency of North Korea of the late dictator Kim Jong Il looking at various things – fish, pasta packets, tiles, women’s bras, cows, apples, textile workers, books, cucumbers, etc. – with fascination, often surrounded by an entourage of military personnel and government advisors. While the absurd subjects paired with the earnest and deliberate photographic style of these propaganda images give rise to an increasingly surreal humor, Rocha’s editing keeps the viewer always somewhat aware of the cruel intentions of the images.
An essay by Marco Bohr at the back of the book dives into the nature of the photographs and offers an analysis of what helped the images go viral on the internet.
“[T]he anonymous photographer (or photographers) of the Korean Central news Agency represented Kim Jong Il with a great deal of attention towards visual coherence and aesthetic continuity. João Rocha’s creation does not lie in taking the photographs as such, but rather, it lies in discovering this coherence, editing images accordingly and then publishing it for others to see.”
― from Marco Bohr’s foreword