A life-altering trek captured in the lens of a photographerIt’s been almost two months since Korean photographer Kim Woo-young returned from the Himalayas, but he is still haunted by the breathtaking beauty and sheer ecstasy he experienced atop Poon Hill, where one can view two of the biggest mountains in the world.
“On the seventh day of our expedition, we got up at 3 a.m. to see the dawn. Up there, it was just too cold for us to open our mouths, and the limbs of a few climbers became paralyzed,” Mr. Kim recalls. “By the time we saw the sun rise at 3,200 meters (10,500 feet) above sea level, everyone ― about 100 of us, Koreans and locals ― was crying. Tears were streaming down my face as I pressed the shutter.”
The photographer’s inspiration from the Himalayas has been turned into an exhibition opening in Seoul this week.
The 13-day journey in late January, called the “Expedition of Hope to the Himalayas,” was organized by KBS 3 Radio for 10 physically handicapped people and their “mentors,” who volunteered to help their partners make a climb that’s considered dangerous and difficult even for those without disabilities.
A total of 38 climbers, including the photographer and his assistant, flew to Nepal via Thailand. Led by Korea’s best-known mountaineer, Um Hong-gil, the team was joined by 60 Nepalese, who became their guides, translators and helpers.
Except for Mr. Um, none of the Korean participants had done serious mountain climbing before. The photographer says the reason for setting such a tough goal was to instill hope in the disabled people, and making the climb permanently changed the perspective of everyone involved.
Mr. Kim, who documented the entire expedition using his five kilogram (11 pound) Mamia, felt the need to share his feelings about the expedition with the Korean public.
The exhibition, “The World’s Most Beautiful Mountain Climbing,” which opens tomorrow at the Insa Art Center in Insa-dong, central Seoul, displays 110 photographs taken during the journey. They are divided into three categories: the landscape, the local people and the expedition team.
Having developed a deep personal connection to the 10 handicapped people, who suffered from a variety of disabilities, Mr. Kim decided to add a series of black-and-white portraits of them.
“Just as my life, as an artist and photographer, has entered another stage, I saw the change in those 10 friends I made. In my photographs, they are glowing with happiness,” Mr. Kim says, pointing to portraits taken in his studio in southern Seoul.
This is the famed Korean photographer’s ninth exhibition, but more significantly, it is the first time he is displaying documentary work inspired by nature and people.
Mr. Kim, who graduated from Hongik University and the School of Visual Arts in New York, says his 20-year career has been spent in a personal struggle to overcome the artistic limitations of photography. “The opportunity opened up a world of infinite possibilities to me,” he says. “Now, I’ve come full cycle and feel confident in expressing what I feel inside through straight-up, honest photographs with no frills or gimmicks.”
Indeed, the photographs of varying sizes and subjects shown at the Insa Art Center reflect his newfound direction in photography even as the images maintain his distinctively rich tone, warmth and lyricism. Each frame relays its own powerful message that the photographer learned the hard way: a profound love for humanity.
“If a photographer takes pictures only with his eyes, then photographs are all about technique, trend or format, and that’s all there is to it. But when the photographer takes [pictures] with his heart, then it’s beyond photography ― it’s the purest form of art,” he says.
Mr. Kim plans to join another expedition when his new friend Um Hong-gil challenges the world’s 16th highest peak next year.
by Ines Cho
The exhibition runs until March 15. Insa Art Center is located on the main avenue in Insa-dong. The nearest subway station is Anguk station, exit No. 6. The art center is open daily from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call 02-736-1020 or visit the Web site www.ganaart.com.