This Exhibit Turns the Camera On New Notions of PhotographyThe adoption of photography in journalism has greatly increased the power of still images. By providing a visual narrative to match the writing's context, photographic documents have been used repeatedly to gage the inherent truth of "reality."
But does photography always depict the truth? The answer to this question is the main theme of the exhibition "The Introduction of Photography -- Portrait and Landscape," currently on display at the ArtSonje Center, and featuring the works of Kim Jin-hyung, Kim Ki-tae, Bang Byung-sang, Lee Kyu-sung and other photographers.
The figures in Kim Jin-hyung's "Kim, Lee, Park Series" are photographed in the midst of dramatic moments. A taxi-driver sits anxiously by his car, its hood wide-open, as if desperately waiting for someone to arrive. The scene appears to emphasize the value of spontaneity in real-life situations. However, according to the artist, the work has been carefully "staged" under his directions.
Though the figures in the photo may look like typical men from the streets of Seoul, they are actually models performing in carefully scripted scenarios.
As anticipated by its humorous title, "Kim, Lee, Park," this work bearing the three most common Korean names emphasizes commonality. By complicating the viewers' perceptions of the real and the performed, Kim brings the "authenticity" of the photographed representations and the absence of "context" into question.
"Portrait," a collaborative project by several artists in the show, is a work that reflects the importance of social constructs in photography. The work depicts the portrait of a man seen through different perspectives, such as a student identification card, a passport, movie posters and wanted ads.
The set of dissimilar images brings into question the value of the viewing conditions, noting that representations do not exist outside of established social codes.
Photography as process is streched to the extreme in Kim Min-hyuk's digitally manipulated images. In his "Face" series, he portrays the same man through different photographic experiments, each time softening light tones and covering muscle definitions with warm highlights, giving the subject a more "feminine" quality.
By subtly changing a person's gender identity codes, Kim challenges the stereotypical representation of masculinity often portrayed in the mass media.
The importance of context in photography is best described in the collaborative project titled "Sky-Ocean." Realized by eight artists, the work shows different methods of presenting a common topic and site, each particular to its creator. The artists' work ranges from realistic to heavily abstract.
Through the work presented, the viewers can get a clear picture of how much the artist's subjectivity plays into the final production.
It may be easy to overlook Kim Ki-tae's "Steel-life" series. Represented on the surface are several prints of roses in a traditional vase, not a compelling image to most contemporary viewers.
But in a close-up view of the photo, one can see a mixture of artificial and real flowers. Kim mixes the two to suggest the limitations of photography and of the viewer's vision.
Somewhat less playful, but in their own way quite essential, are diptychs by Bang Byung-sang. Juxtaposing two identical images with different focuses, Bang illustrates a simple, yet crucial truth in photography -- the prioritizing of the photographed subjects according to the artist's decision.
Suggested by the title "What is seen, what is not seen," Bang's work lends to discussion the particular relevance of photography's context in photojournalism. Unlike commonly-held perceptions that grant photography as an "objective" medium, Bang reassures through this work that it is the photographer who constructs the context and has final control over the camera's mechanism. He suggests this way the existence of fabricated narratives in photography.
The work of Lee Kyu-sung also places emphasis on the importance of the photographer's final touch. "Light and Shadow" is a set of two photographs differing only slightly in their tones; one very dark and the other light.
However, the effect of the combined photos is over-powering in the resulting picture. Though the two photos portray identical images of the ocean, on their own they look entirely different. This again demonstrates the amount of control the photographer has over the camera's mechanical capability.
According to Bang, the photography's tone, often assumed to be entirely depended on weather or light conditions, can in fact be controlled by the photographer's adjustments.
In other words, images are no longer innocent. Perhaps it may be the approriate time for such a statement, in this age of flourishing digital manipulation.
As reflected in its title, "The Introduction of Photography - Portrait and Landscape" is a theoretical study of photography. It examines photography's fundamental mechanisms and appropriates some of the myths concerning the medium.
Most importantly, the show politicizes the concept of "representation," and encourages us to question the images presented. After all, we live in a society where one's image is often replaced by his or her identity, or vice versa.
The show is on display through Nov. 26. For more information call (02) 733-8945.
by Park Soomee