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Korean, All Too Korean

Kim Seung-gu is a photographer who has recorded the socio-cultural phenomenon that can be seen exclusively in Korean society for a long period of time. He uses the ones that he encounters as his primary subject matter. For Koreans, people dream of utopian everyday space, hence the sculptures surrounding us are somewhat wretched. And crowd appreciate them without realizing they are unrealistic in a way is a typical example of how we have gotten used to them. Most photographers are deeply involved in the situations in the photographs, when it comes to works based on the documentary format although Kim cleaves to the way of observing from a distance. It is merely to capture what is happening around us without any interference. What he observed in "Better Days" is 'Leisure and Composure in Korean society'.


Korea is one of the world's most rapid growing countries. Despite the tragedy of the Japanese colonial period and the Korean War, it has achieved remarkable economic growth in a short period of time. The rate of urbanization and the growth rate of per capita income in Korea shows that it took only 30 years for Korea to catch up with the achievements made by the western society within 300 years of history. It must be a miracle of the ‘Han River.’ The miracle of 'Pali Pali (as fast as possible spirit)' has also compressed the ordinary life of Koreans. In general, people are named as "a tribe of time-poorer" who feel guilty if they are not engaged in labor. People are obsessed with the obligation to achieve economic welfare which led our country to rank first and second place surpassing annual average working hours of OECD countries. And also at the same time, people are obsessed with how to spend the earned money well. If people had used the black days(working days) of the calendar being devoted to someone who they work for, the red days(public holidays) should be invested for themselves and their families. As long as they can enjoy the leisure time and feel a glimpse of composure, it does not matter where. Even if it can be a crowded swimming pool, they have to soak their feet into the water. They should also relish several leisure activities such as drinking, singing, and dancing close to suburb area. Moreover, they would believe that they had enough of pleasant natural experience in a nearby garden.


From a distance, it is a tragedy and if you look at it closer, it is a comedy. When you observe Kim‘s documented leisure moments, you may feel the sorrow whether to live in this form of life is real and multi-layered feelings slide by while witnessing the strange spaces bearing sculptures as if they seem too ideal. The ideal and reality of mixed leisure scenes that may seem both natural and disparate is a result of the compact growth that eventually made people to adapt to these, even we know that time spent in these types of places is not the best possible option. Furthermore, it became a common practice now. Korea has been struggling to follow the economic, social, and cultural achievements of the West, therefore, we were unable to keep our distinct identity and became an assorted and emulated society. And since we have adapted to this quickly, it seems this type of scenery settled in as Korea‘s unique landscape. On the other hand, Kim does not criticize the desire for instant leisure and composure in Korean society. This is a particular landscape that characterizes Korean society and "Better Days" is the point of showing such a phenomenon. Like Lefèbvre's statement, "The spatial environment defines our lives," he observes the spatial environment around us and looks back at our lives through it.


From a macroscopic point of view, Kim's work is the 'holistic landscape photography.' Aside from "Better Days", he is continuously working on various subject matters. A series of scenery photographs consolidate and build a project. When they are scattered, they may show one part of our society, but when they are combined, they show the distinct scenery of Korea. This means that each series is a 'categorization' and the project is an 'archive'. Therefore, his work is an important research material and a proof of our social and cultural phenomena. The more the time passes, the more the quantity increases, and the more important it will develop into. However, there are some insights to keep in mind. It is the 'method of displaying the photos.' The archiving work is indeed impressive when it consists of a large number of photographs. Yet, when you show hundreds of pictures through exhibitions and publications, you may encounter the physical constraints and lack of covesiveness if you show a selective amount of visually compelling photographs. The work of Kim Seung-gu is maximized when the viewer reflect about the meaning of lives through photography though there is an inconsistency between showing of photographs and understanding them with solidarity. What kind of solution can he work on for this unpredictable and long-investing project? Work-Life Balance is on the priority of corresponding trends from his works, he might have to show each series in sequence according to the subject of the order. This strategy is to take hold of viewers‘ attention through control of intensity of content and form. Can "Better Days" become a strategic point? I hope that this work will be an exceptional starting point for the long journey ahead.


By Yihyun Park, Monthly Photo

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