Photographs dramatize poverty’s long reach

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Photographs dramatize poverty’s long reach

Once the biggest slum area in Seoul, Nangok, in the southwestern part of the capital, disappeared in a redevelopment project last year.
The area, where apartment complexes are being built, will become a new urban town with modern high-rise apartments. People who used to live there, however, scattered, and continue their lives in harsh conditions.
The Nangok mountain village in Gwanak district used to be home to 2,509 households with 6,148 people. The village coalesced in the early 1960s when Seoul launched redevelopment projects to improve the city’s appearance and shoved out people living in other slums around places like the Cheonggye stream.
Now people can catch a glimpse of life in Nangok through black-and-white photographs. Kim Young-jong, a 49-year-old activist, publisher and photographer, is holding an exhibition of photographs taken of residents living in Nangok before the redevelopment. The exhibition is at Savina Museum in Seoul.
Mr. Kim’s interest in the poverty-stricken village began when, as a student, he was hiding from the police because of his participation in student activism. Mr. Kim at the time lived in another slum in Samyang-dong, northern Seoul.
“The pictures show how poverty is passed from generation to generation,” Mr. Kim said in an interview.
He took not only documentary pictures, but pictures in which he created visual effects to suggest images of poverty. The pictures send a message of how poverty affects people’s lives.
In one photograph, a painting of Jesus is hanging on the wall of a wrecked house. Perhaps Mr. Kim wanted to show that blessings were absent in a place where they were most needed.
“Razing slums cannot eliminate poverty,” Mr. Kim said. “Poverty is a byproduct of society, and no one can escape it.”
The exhibition was titled “Conspiracy.” Mr. Kim said the photographs showed the conspiracy of how poverty is reproduced.
Mr. Kim, born in Gwangju, participated in the democracy movement of the 1970s and 1980s. He opened his socially-conscious publishing house, Sakyejul, in 1982 but suddenly left the industry in 1995 to study the central Asian region.
He said he realized how influential and communicative photographs could be when he was travelling through central Asia along the ancient Silk Road.
His exhibition continues through May 9. Savina Museum is located near Anguk subway station on the No. 3 line, and can be reached from exit No. 1.

by Limb Jae-un

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