I had the profound privilege of visiting the Soorim Cultural Foundation’s 2nd Photography Cultural Award Exhibition. This event was founded for the purpose of supporting upcoming photographers and those working to develop the photographic arts in Korea. The curator for the exhibition, Kyung Moon Lee, was generous enough to give us an informed tour as well as his enjoyable company. The award recipients were narrowed down to five photographers and they include:
Park Hong Soon
Park Hong Soon’s large scale, predominantly black and white, photos revisit half-remembered and half-forgotten spaces. The near total absence of figures brings us an otherworldly sense of desolation, while the reminders of human habitation makes us feel nostalgia for the places left behind. Monumental, inanimate subjects tower over and pierce these dark landscapes while the viewer is left feeling like the last human observer.
Lee Jae Gab
Lee Jae Gab takes a documentarian view with both the matter-of-factly sense of mundaneness and a historical sense of urgency to these structural subjects. Highlighting volatile and controversial landmarks in the history of Japan’s occupation of Korea and of the destruction of both during WW2, Lee Jae Gab tells tales of somber remembrance and dark warning of man’s own inhumanity. Locations spanning between Korea and Japan, we are reminded of the grotesqueness of a past not far removed.
Lee Jeong Lok
Lee Jeong Lok creates an illuminated dream-world in a painstakingly manual way. Across twilight landscapes, resplendent shapes race, fly and overpopulate the land. Emblazoned butterflies climb unfamiliar staircases and Hanguel letters sail out to sea, and the viewer is invited into this world of magic and, with video accompaniment, into the artist’s process.
Chang Sook takes a new approach to portrait photography; by showing us the often-hidden places of people’s bodies. Acknowledging the possible dishonesty of facial portraits and the vast history of sexualizing nude female bodies, Chang Sook seeks to tell her subject’s stories using wrinkles and scars as roadmaps into their pasts. By showing us her subjects’ backs, we are allowed into an intimate and honest space to explore burden, growth, age and wisdom. Viewers are invited to see the most private places of these elderly women in a search for both their past and our future.
Jeon Jeong Eun
Utilizing digital photography, collage, and a deep understanding of color and form, Jeon Jeong Eun transports us to worlds alien yet familiar. Stitching together organic imagery from a variety of sources, the artist paints a world that is breathtaking and warmly inviting. From temperate-tropical flora intertwined alongside a small pond to sublime forest scenes, the world of Jeon Jeong Eun demonstrates a level of technical precision and formalistic experience not seen elsewhere.
These works’ scale was particularly impressive and allowed the viewer to fully enter the world of the photograph, and the order in which they were arranged were thematic between ideas of solemnity and remembrance to the clashing of fantasy and reality; the observation of oscillating between the two provided for a perfectly balanced experience. I congratulate all the winners of this prestigious award, for it was certainly well-deserved, and I thank Kyung Moon Lee for whom I would not otherwise have had the opportunity to visit this exhibition.