Photographer Develops a Negative Into Something Positive

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Photographer Develops a Negative Into Something Positive

If the photographs you had taken didn't turn out right, normally you would throw them out, thinking you'd wasted your film. But when Koh Sang-woo, a 20-year-old fine arts student, found a photo he had taken of himself appeared ghostlike on the print, he decided that the result was curiously interesting. So interesting, in fact, that he tried to make the same mistake again. The ghostly effect had been created because all the colors on the print had been accidentally reversed, just like a negative. So he did it again. He liked the results so much that he began experimenting, wearing different color clothes to get different effects. When his fellow art students said they liked what he had created, Mr. Koh began to concentrate on this method of photography.

Mr. Koh's negative photographic images were shown during his graduation exhibition early this year at the Art Institute of Chicago. They earned him attention from influential art critics, and Mr. Koh was offered the chance to show his works at the prestigious Carl Hammer Gallery and the Jean Albano Gallery, both in Chicago. Earlier, he captured the Grand Prize at the 7th National Video Festival and earned a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellowship for New Americans.

Mr. Koh's debut show in Korea, "The Solo Exhibition by Koh Sang Woo," is being held at the Insa Art Space in Insa-dong, central Seoul.

Mr. Koh, 23, may have stumbled across his technique, which appears highly conceptual, by accident, but he creatively seized upon the opportunities the mistake presented.

A section of the series of images on display at his exhibition seem to focus on women. They're not women, but photos of the artist himself, sporting wigs and a pout. The self-portraits are eerie but beautiful images, whose titles include familiar names such as Miss America, Eve, Virgin Mary and Natasha.

The Korean-born photographer and filmmaker told the JoongAng Ilbo English Edition that his images were inspired by his early experiences in the United States. At 13, he moved to the United States to study art and English.

He changed high schools three times - moving from West Virginia to San Jose, California, to San Francisco - and he said severe racial discrimination and a resultant identity crisis were to blame. "I couldn't get along with people and would get into trouble. All through that time, I thought the most privileged kind of people were young white women, especially blonde and blue-eyed, who seemed to lead an easy life."

The image of the golden girl became his central subject matter. This Caucasian symbol of his envy became, through the camera lens, his alter ego. His imagination, and his images, have been compared to those of Andy Warhol, who took icons such as Marilyn Monroe and Mao Zedong and transformed them into images of pop culture.

The color blue dominates his works, and Mr. Koh said, "Asians' skin color, yellow, becomes deep blue in the negative. When I took pictures of a white person, the color became sky-blue; with a black person, it turned white. I felt the altered color of my own skin color could express alienation, melancholy and fantasy."

Mr. Koh is also skeptical of how far he could have gotten with the happy chance of the accident alone. To be a successful artist today, he said, "Talent is not enough. You need good connections - it's a matter of who you meet and who you know. In a way, being an artist is like being an entertainer."

"The Solo Exhibition by Koh Sang Woo" runs until Sunday. For more information, contact 02-760-4720~4 (English available).

by Inēs Cho

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