North Korea keeps 'photoshopping' Kim Jong-un’s ears, experts say

'We think these are just cosmetic alterations—changes to help Kim look a bit more handsome than he is in real life' 

Chloe Farand
Wednesday 28 June 2017 19:51
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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attending a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un attending a military parade in Pyongyang marking the 105th anniversary of the birth of late North Korean leader Kim Il-Sung

Kim Jong-un’s ears are being photoshopped “to make him look a bit more handsome than he is in real life”, forensic software has revealed.

The North Korean leader seems to be very aware of his appearance and of the image he wants to showcase to the rest of the world.

But if Photoshop has found a crucial place within the regime’s propaganda machine, Kim Jong-un appears to be particularly perfectionist when it comes to his ears.

Dave Schmerler, a research associate at the James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies, first noticed the curious trend.

He tweeted: “Sometimes we see editing in pictures of Kim Jong Un - particularly around his ear - wonder if this has anything to do with it?”

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, responded, saying the Koreans had made a habit to "fuss" about the appearance of their leader's ears.

In a separate interview with the Motherboard website, Mr Lewis said: "Over the past few years, we noticed that Kim Jong-un's ears often appear to have been altered along with other aspects of his appearance.

"We think these are just cosmetic alterations—changes to help Kim look a bit more handsome than he is in real life, much like a wedding photographer might make. He doesn't like his ears, or so it seems."

Researchers are able to use forensic software such as "Tungstène" that uses a series of filters to highlight areas of a picture which have been digitally altered.

In some instances, the software can even tell experts whether the picture has been opened and saved in Photoshop.

Pictures of Kim Jong-un have shown digital alterations being made to the North Korean leader's ears but also to his face and other objects and people around him, experts said.

But a close look to some of Kim Jon-un's pictures is sometimes enough to spot the visible silhouette of the original ear or a difference in the skin tone.

Mr Lewis added: "For Kim and his ears, what struck us was not any single picture of him, but the totality of them. Images of his ears did not always show signs of alteration, but they did often enough that it caught our attention."

Kim Jon-un's doctored ears are a drop in the ocean when it comes to North Korea's habit of altering images.

Pictures have previously been doctored to show piles of food in bakeries and supermarkets, and animals flourishing on farms.

In 2013, the picture of a North Korean landing via hovercraft on a beach raised much discussions before sharp-eyed experts pointed out the number of hovercrafts appeared to have been duplicated after the picture was taken.

Last year, a high resolution portray of Kim Jong-un was released and to commentators' surprise, it appeared not to have been altered.

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