Art Director and Curator
Professor at Daegu Future College
Kang Woongu, Yook Myongshim, Koo Bohnchang, Kim Jungman, Lee Gapchul, Park Jongwoo, Oh Heinkuhn, and Seo Heunkang devoted several decades of their careers in pursuit of finding their own unique styles and identities through their works of art. This exhibition offers a rare chance for visitors to gain insight into the major events that have happened in Korea, most of which encapsulate Korea’s natural environment, culture, and identity. Over 180 pictures of these 8 major Korean photographers will be displayed across 4 themes. Each theme has a different tone and style.
Industrialization in Korea started in the 1960s after the Japanese occupation and the Korean War in the early part of the 20th century. During the industrialization period, millions of Koreans migrated from the rural countryside to the city areas, ‘the land of opportunity’, hoping to find a better life. In the process, cities became bigger to accommodate large waves of migrants from the rural countryside. The cities expanded to become large and chaotic; at the same time, this migration caused the collapse of agrarian and large-family social values.
Yook Myongshim and Lee Gapchul’s photos capture the serene look of the rural countryside and its scenery from the past, depicting the peaceful rural life. The traces of indigenous Shamanism blended in with the Buddhist culture make the photos all the more powerful of an experience for the viewers. They show you a glimpse of the powerful religious images infused with the shamanism of a long time ago.
The second theme is the rediscovery of Korea’s cultural heritage. Right after the Korean War, the Korean economy provided standards of living not much above subsistence, which put having enough food on the dinner table on top of the priority list. The growth of the urban economy and exodus of farmers to the cities led to a concentration of the population in major cities and the depopulation of the rural countryside, resulting in multi-generational households changing into nuclear family living arrangements. In addition, due to the sudden influx of western culture and values following industrialization, new values emerged as new standards and rules made their way into the mainstream, while the old Korean traditions and cultural heritage moved to the periphery. Kang Woongu and Koo Bohnchang went in search of the old heritage that was gradually giving its place to the new values. In this exhibition, this cultural transition is captured in the photos of Kang Woongu; each shows the rich Buddhist heritage, scattered around Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju, the capital of Silla, the ancient kingdom of a magnificent and glorious civilization. The white porcelains and masks in the photos of Koo Bohnchang can only be displayed at a rare exhibition such as this one.
The third theme is the ‘rediscovery of Korea’. The Korean wave is a neologism that refers to the rapid growth in the popularity of South Korean culture since the late 1990s. Numerous photographers are trying to rediscover the traditional Korea in an attempt to rediscover the driving force of modern day Korea, where the Korean Wave was conceived and caught the attention of many people around the world. The photos of Kim Jungman are an example of this attempt. He traveled to every far corner of the countryside and took pictures of the scenery. In his works, you can witness the true uniqueness of nature. Seo Heunkang’s photos also reflect Korea’s heritage. In his pictures, the buildings, which embody the old values, blend in with the natural environment in a comprehensive way.
Park Jongwoo’s photos will show you Korea in a way that feels very different from the way you usually think of it. They are so unique that you will get a feeling that you are enlightened about what Korea is all about. The war is considered to have ended but it left Korea the only country in the world with an armistice line after the 20th century. Until Korea was divided by the 38th parallel north, which runs across the waist line of the Korean peninsula, it was a land where death was prevalent. These photographers recorded the moments of peace and tension over the years, which have lasted until now.
The final theme is about the young people who are leading modern day Korea. After industrialization, the young generation in Korea assumed responsibility for social goals while experiencing diverse social changes and many difficulties of their own. This generation is the driving force of the Korean Wave. They are not afraid to express their feelings, and are not bound by any social inhibitions or restraints. Oh Heinkuhn’s photos show the lives of young Korean males serving in the military(It is a mandatory duty for all Korean males to serve 2 years in the military in their 20s.); and Korean women and girls, who stand on the fine line between girlhood and womanhood. Unlike the old days, many women are equally given a chance to receive higher education, which opens new doors for them to develop a career. It goes without saying that these pictures cannot show every detail of Korean society or its culture and the lives of people from all walks of life.
Nevertheless, the significance of these pictures is noteworthy. So far, the images of Korea have been created and structured through the eyes of non-Koreans. These images of Korea, mostly created during the Japanese occupation in the 20th century and in the midst of war, are still dominant. Some of these images were taken by passing western travelers, and some were taken by imperialists who wanted to justify the propaganda of the Japanese occupation era. The rest mostly depict Korea when it was in the middle of the devastating destruction of war.
However, in this exhibition, you can see Korea as it is now. All the photographers were born and bred in Korea, and the pictures represent the real Korea as of today. This exhibition breaks the mold of previous smaller exhibits in terms of its scope and importance. I am sure that this exhibition will help visitors develop a better understanding of Korean culture.
Not only will you be able to experience the ancient Korean heritage and the lives of the people who resided on this very land, but you also will be able to enjoy the beautiful mountains and rivers, and the youth in Korea. Most importantly, it is definitely a rare chance to contemplate on Korea, a beautiful country in northeast Asia.
Mt. Namsan in Gyeongju
Kang has prepared a long time for his show, focusing only on the quality of his work, and in that time he has produced an exceptionally large body of work. He has often said, “The best rice is steamed rice,” which one might paraphrase by saying, “The best photograph is a documentary one.” His documentary photographs have plumbed deep inside reality, beyond external appearances. He calls himself a “domestic-only photographer”, which is an apt name for his approach to everyday reality. It seems to serve as a metaphor of protest against the phenomenon of overflowing photos that achieve no particular identity in their pursuit of global or international issues.
A Faint Trembling of the Landscape
Starting with social documentary, Seo is working on the most Korean historical and cultural documentary which contains world trend and historical recognition. He is taking pictures in pursuit of our future from the previous cultural assets. A look at his ongoing photographing objects such as palace, royal tomb, and pavilion in Joseon Dynasty suggests that he is reinterpreting the past from the point of view of the present and producing his works from in terms of the future. He held four solo exhibitions such as Highschool Life(Cheonan Cultural Center, 1986), Boat People(Hwarang Hanmadang, 1989), Human Cultural Assets, “Face”(Intangible Cultural Properties Learning Center, Seoul), and Garden of the Gods-Jocheon(Toyota Art Space, Busan), and joined 15 group exhibitions.
Jangseung & Baekmin
Born in 1933 in Daejeon, ChungcheogNamdo, he graduated from the Department of English Literature at Yeonse University and later the Department of Art History at Hongik University Graduate School. In 1972, he started teaching in the Department of Photography at Sorabol Art College and in 1975 became a first year professor of the Department of Photography at Shingu College and from 1983 to 2003 devoted himself to educate the students for the subject of world history of photography at Graduate School of Joongang University, Hongik University, Sangmyung University, and Sookmyung University. He retried from the Department of Photography at Seoul Art College in 1999.
Conflict and Reaction
Born in 1959 in Jinju, Lee graduated from the Department of Photography at Shin-gu University in 1984. He has travelled to various corners of Korea and has taken photographs of image of our ancestors’ affection and sorrow, cheerful nature, and persistent vitality. Solo exhibitions such as Yankees on the streets(Hanmadang Gallery, 1984), Image of the City(Hanmadang Gallery, 1986), The Land of the Others(Kyung-in Art Museum, 1988), Conflict and Reaction(Kumho Art Museum, 2002) and Energy(Hanmi Museum of photography, 2007) were held and he participated in numerous collective exhibitions. He was invited abroad to the FOTOFEST, 2000 in Houston, U.S., Photographie Contemporaine Coreenne in 2002, Montpellier, France, etc. He was awarded the Sagamihara Asia Photographer Prize and Lee Myong-dong Prize, etc. He is currently represented by Vu Gallery in France.
DMZ (Demilitarized Zone)
Before working on his own, Park Jongwoo had worked for The Korea Times as a staff news photographer for 11 years, covering major political and social issues in Korea. Since starting to work as a free-lancer, he has focused on the plight of ethnic people, especially the nomads of Asia.
Park contributes words and pictures to a variety of domestic and international publications. A modern-nomad himself, Park has been roaming around the most remote regions on the globe for almost three decades, documenting the vanishing cultures of minority groups. His documentary work on the Himalayan ranges is a long-term project that has continued on for more than 20 years.
Although specializing in documentary photography, he also produces video documentaries. His films frequently appear in international and Korean TV channels.
Middlemen & Girl’s Act
Starting as a documentary photographer, Oh Heinkuhn captured the social landscapes on the streets in the early 1990s and has been working on portraits of specific groups of people such as married women, high school girls, and cosmetic girls that present a certain type of social convention in Korea society. Especially for the past ten years, he has pursued with constant interest on portrait study to reveal the identity of Korean girls who are easily swayed by Korea entertainment culture through his exhibitions – Girls’ Act(Ilmin Museum of Art), Cosmetic Girls(Kukje Gallery) and etc.
The Hidden Face_Mask & Vessel
Koo Bohnchang attended Yonsei University majoring in Business Administration and later studied photography in Hamburg, Germany. Presently he teaches at Kyungil University.
His works have been exhibited in over 30 solo exhibitions including Samsung Rodin Gallery, Seoul (2001), Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts(2002), Camera Obscura, Paris(2004), Kukje Gallery, Seoul and Kahitsukan Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art(2006), Goeun Museum of Photography, Busan(2007), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia(2010) and many.
The Korea Rediscovery Project
A representative photographer in Korea, Kim Jungman majored in Western painting at Studio Ecole Nationle D’Art Decoratif De Nice in France and then was recognized as the ‘emerging artist of 1977′ at the Arles International Festival of Photography. At the same year, he was also named for ‘Today’s Photograph’ in France, which made him the youngest of the top 80 photographers in France since Daguerre invented photography.
After that, he worked for fashion magazine like Elle,Vogue, and etc. In 1979, he returned to Korea and worked in fashion, advertising, movies, and other commercial projects. In 1988, he recovered his Korea nationality and worked on art, portrait, and fashion photograph while teaching photography at School of Film, TV & Multimedia of Korea National University of Arts. In 2007 he participated in Asian Contemporary Art Fair in Manhattan, New York and Paris Photo in L.A in 2013, which drew a great amount of attention of art collectors and officials.
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