You know the deal by now - A LOOK AT articles are when we at YOUR EXHIBITION look at a body of work from a photographer in the film community, and tell you why we think it’s of merit. This article is particularly special though because we’re looking at Jules Le Moal’s zine looking at North Korea called Useful Idiocy. Jules’ From Montmartre With Love was the first A LOOK AT article we ever published, so this is the first instance where we’ve looked at two bodies of work from the same artists.
If you’ve followed us or Jules for a few months, you’ll know that Jules exhibited his work from Pyongyang in France. We weren’t fortunate enough to visit this exhibition, so we were ecstatic when we heard that he was working on a zine featuring some images from the exhibit. We managed to view Jules’ drafts of the zine before he sent it to the publishers, so we had a vague idea what to expect, but there’s nothing quite like the real thing. There is a power in the printed medium that is different to that of the digital medium. That’s not to say it’s more or less powerful, but is meant to be appreciated in print, and this zine definitely confirms that to me.
I’ve have already expressed this in previous articles, but I’ll say it again: I particularly like zines based on locations. There’s a charm about experiencing a new location through the eyes of someone else. You learn about both the place and the artist behind the images. Three great examples of this type of narrative are:
This zine is a bit different to the aforementioned location-based zines, because North Korea is like no other place. Jules had the opportunity to behind the peer behind the curtain, or at least that was his intention, though he states in his prologue that “all I am left with is more questions than answers…”. Nevertheless, this book is a wonderful insight into the oddity that is Pyongyang.
Let’s start where every zine starts: the cover. Now as someone who received many compliments on his cover (for LIFELESS), I feel somewhat qualified to tell you that this is a good cover. It’s clean, it’s aesthetically pleasing with an element of balance from the two statues and it’s informative. I know from just looking at it that this is about Jules’ travels to Pyongyang in 2017. I love the simplicity of it. Points for a great cover!
Then we go to the materials used. Some people think that I focus too much on the paper and printing methods used in the creation of a zine, and perhaps I do, but I think it’s a very important consideration when producing printed work. You don’t buy a great camera body and chuck some rubbish glass on it, so why take an awesome photo and print it on trash paper? Jules’ selection is very flattering to the work. Jules has opted to use thicker paper here, which holds the ink exceptionally well - both for colour and monochrome work. The cover is thicker than the internal pages, provides the zine with a rigidity that’s typical of other premium zines.
As for the imagery itself, I may be biased. I’ve personally been following Jules’ work for a number of months, and I feel like his monochromatic work is exceptional. That being said, I think some of this work is the best he’s ever produced. Let’s take a look why:
First of all, Jules’ understanding of geometry and working a scene is exceptional. It is obvious that he’s worked many of the scenes to find a more flattering composition. Great examples of this are the photos on pages 24 and 25. The leading lines on page 24 naturally draw the eye into the frame, and there’s a wonderful balance to the following image. The two trains frame the image, and there’s layers in the crowd of people in the foreground. They’re both wonderfully composed.
Something that Jules’ has worked on since From Montmartre With Love is his image pairing. If you read that article, you’ll know that I personally enjoyed Jules’ playful coupling of images, and this features in this publication too. This time he’s utilised the dimensions of the zine to place the images together to carry the narrative forward. Here are two examples where the shapes in the first frame naturally move into the next. In the second example, it’s not just the lines that tie the images together, but the monument also. It’s obvious that Jules has greatly considered the sequencing, and it makes for an enjoyable viewing.
Now we come to the colour work. I’m a sucker for a good black and white image, particularly in zines, so I didn’t know what to expect when Jules informed me that he was including colour work in Useful Idiocy. He proved me wrong though, as I absolutely love the life that it gives this zine. There’s an odd juxtaposition between the vibrancy of the images, and the odd regime that operate in North Korea. You witness these lively, celebratory scenes with Kim Jong-Un overlooking them, smiley. There’s an unnerving feeling from it all, and I just love it. It’s placed deliberately in the middle of this zine to make it feel out of place. It further emphasises the oddness that we have come to associate with North Korea as outsiders.
In closing, this zine is definitely worth picking up. Jules’ storytelling is exceptional, from both a narrative and aesthetically pleasing perspective. He demonstrates technical brilliance in the capturing of these images, and shares a mature approach on an unusual topic. We’re pleased that it is joining the YOUR EXHIBITION library.
If you’re not fortunate enough to have a copy yet, we implore you to act fast. Jules only has a handful of copies left, so you have very little time to waste. You can purchase your copy here. Also if Jules’ 2019 is as good as his 2018, then he’s definitely worth following. You can do so on Instagram here.
Lastly, if you enjoyed this article, you might like the other A LOOK AT articles. Check them out here.