Kim Jong Il's presence is felt in series of images

It's hard to imagine a North Korea without Kim Jong Il, who led the nation for 17 years until his death in December.

His portrait hangs in every building, his visits to factories and shops are commemorated with signs in his honor. The song book at the hotel at Mount Kumgang features a full page of tunes with his name in the title, and the airline hostesses in lacy gloves give their thanks to him as Air Koryo flights cross into North Korean airspace.

Kim's death on Dec. 17 marks the end of an era for North Korea, which has known only two leaders: Kim and his father, Kim Il Sung. Already, a new era has begun under the leadership of his young son, Kim Jong Un.

Still, Kim Jong Il's presence is felt in every frame of these images made by Associated Press photographer David Guttenfelder over the course of our visits during the last months of Kim's life.

The white gloves on a table outside the International Friendship Exhibition Hall at Mount Myohang belong to the young guide in traditional Korean dress who eased them on before opening the front door to the museum housing gifts to the late leader.

Doctors and nurses laugh as they huff and puff their way past mountains carved with Kim's sayings and signature.

Young men in bumper cars bash each other gleefully at an amusement park that Kim ordered renovated as part of a bid to “improve the people's daily lives,” one of the goals he left unfinished when he died at age 69.

Brush in hand and paint can tucked between his feet, an artisan colors in the letters for a propaganda poster from his precarious perch.

The date printed across the top of the poster reads “June of the year Juche 100 of Great Leader Kim Jong Il” — or, to the outside world, June 2011.

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Follow Jean H. Lee on Twitter at twitter.com/newsjean and photographer David Guttenfelder at twitter.com/dguttenfelder.

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