Kim Jong Un relegated to back row in recent Rodong photo

Kim Ga Young  |  2016-12-17 14:34

On the second page of the Rodong Sinmuns December 13 issue, a photo of Kim Jong Un was published with a stark difference to previous so-called No. 1 photos (images in which the leader appears). The photo was taken during an inspection visit to the Korean Peoples Army Power Station in Wonsan. In the photo, Kim Jong Un, who is usually photographed in the front and center, is seen standing in the back row behind the plant workers and on the left side. If not for the title of the article reporting Kim's on site inspection, it would be difficult to notice him in the picture.

The Rodong Sinmun frequently publishes photos of the North Korean leader. The front page of the publication usually shows Kim Jong Un participating in a major event or paying an inspection visit somewhere, with his presence always being the topic of emphasis. In such photos, Kim Jong Un typically appears laughing or smiling, while instructing receptive personnel around him.

A standard example of photos showing the Highest Dignity is a group photo in which the dictator is standing in the center of the image with hundreds of people lined up behind him. A photographer who takes photos of Kim Jong Un for publication in state media is called a "Number 1 Photographer," with Number 1 being attached to everything related to the supreme leader in North Korea.

According to the 'custom' in North Korea, which is a continuation from the Kim Il Sung and Kim Jong Il era, it is unacceptable for a Number 1 photograph to show the supreme leader standing anywhere but in the front and center in the Rodong Sinmun. North Korea considers Number 1 photos to be an instrument for idolization of the leader, and so such photos are supposed be taken in a composition that best emphasizes the leaders appearance.

Since Kim Jong Un came to power, slight changes have been noted in Number 1 Photos. Photos of him with his back turned as he watches ballistic missile launches or smiling with children or soldiers touching his arm have frequently appeared. These photos are distinctly different from those of the previous leaders, which only showed them front-on and avoiding bodily contact with people. However, this marks the first time that Kim Jong Un has appeared blocked by others who are not lined up in a photo.

Regarding the curious Number 1 photo, some defectors are interpreting it to be a sign that idolization efforts by the North Korean regime are becoming poorer. One defector, who declined to be identified, told Daily NK, "North Korea's idolization work has been very thorough and almost flawless, but since Kim Jong Un rose to power, there have been a lot of instances outside the standard patterns. I was shocked to see a picture of Kim Jong Un taken from above, broadcast by Korean Central TV."

"It may be that Kim Jong Un and those in the propaganda department are not fully appreciating the rigor needed for idolization. The changes could also be seen as a means to emphasize the leaders love for the people, but it seems unlikely that the regime would trade the style of his depiction to do so. Kim Jong Un seeks to shore up power through divergent tactics like fearpolitik and love for the people, but doesnt seem to completely understand the complexity of idolization," the source noted.

"The photo at the power plant should have been taken with Kim Jong Un in the center sitting on a chair prepared by his attendants. Even if it were impossible to prepare a chair beforehand, the fact that they released a photo of the supreme leader standing in the back just shows that the propaganda was poorly implemented."

A separate defector-source interpreted the photo as intentional, to promote his love for the people. "As the inspection of the plant was intended to encourage the workers, the photo could have been deliberately taken in this composition to show Kim Jong Un as a communicative and embracing leader. The regime may be trying to show that Kim Jong Un gave away the center position to the people, and the photo may be utilized in propaganda lectures in the future, she commented.

"All photographs that appear in the Rodong Sinmun go through strict censorship to ensure that Kim Jong Un's appearance is well presented before it goes to print. Therefore, it is not possible that the photo was printed on the second page of the paper without being noticed. However, even if the photo was intended as a promotional piece to emphasize his love for the people, no resident would be impressed by it. The residents are having a hard time getting by and are unlikely to be moved by it."

*Translated by Yejie Kim
*Edited by Lee Farrand

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