In a photographer’s work, the reflection of an artist

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In a photographer’s work, the reflection of an artist

Wayne Schoenfeld takes pictures rather than photographs. His carefully orchestrated images appear at a glance like classic paintings by 17th century French artist Nicolas Poussin.
This California-based photographer, who has had an eventful career, and whose work has won recognition and acclaim for years, has produced a set of dramatic images whose style and subject matter elude simple definition. These works are now being shown at Seoul’s Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery in Insa-dong.
In this exhibition, Mr. Schoenfeld presents his “Miss Liberty,” “Vanity,” “Through the Eyes of Man” and “Sabine Women” series.
Mr. Schoenfeld, who briefly visited Seoul for the opening of the exhibition, welcomes those who find a close connection between Poussin and his photographs, since they were inspired by the French artist.
The “Sabine Women” series, for example, easily recalls Poussin’s representative work “The Rape of the Sabine Women.” Based on a story from ancient history, the painting depicts a scene in which the Romans abduct the women of the neighboring Sabines, whom they have invited to a festival. The subject has been treated by artists for centuries.
For Mr. Schoenfeld, such mythic subject matter is a good resource for describing contemporary times, employing the quality of a parody. In the “Sabine Women” series, he intentionally places models dressed up as Jesus and a Roman emperor on the same side, on friendly terms. With such an arrangement, he questions whether it is truly meaningful for opponents in a war to claim that God is with them, an issue he has been thinking about since the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks, followed by the Bush administration’s war in Iraq.
His other series, such as “Miss Liberty,” also have a sense of parody. In one photograph, titled “Kiss,” a woman in a lavish outfit holds a mirror in one hand while the other hand is being kissed by a man in a military uniform. When viewers look toward the periphery, however, they can spot menacing images, ranging from “natural” dangers such as a lion and leopard to demons, with the Statue of Liberty burning in the distance.
Watching the Bush administration become more powerful after the war in Iraq, Mr. Schoenfeld said he kept thinking that people’s vanity poses the biggest danger.
In his “Through the Eyes of Man” series, which was inspired by the Bible, he shows photographs of a woman posing as Jesus and an angel offering an apple to Adam and Eve. “I always use familiar subject matter and stories that are universal to create the photographs,” Mr. Schoenfeld said.
Just as the 17-century painter Poussin carefully created wax models before painting, this 21st century American photographer never hurries a production procedure. Known for avoiding digital manipulation of his images, Mr. Schoenfeld takes at least several months in pre-production, in which he makes such arrangements as casting and stage design.
In one corner of the gallery, a “making-of” video is available, right next to the result of the production, the photographs. Viewers can see Mr. Schoenfeld busily moving around, orchestrating the scene, directing the staff and clicking the shutter of his camera.
This exhibition, which shows Mr. Schoenfeld’s pursuit of parody, however, is only one part of his career in photography. His work also has a humanitarian aspect, such as the “Almost Perfect” series, in which he chronicled the efforts of a volunteer American surgical team to repair deformities in children in a village in Vietnam. Proceeds from the book of photos were donated to charity.
His future projects include a series titled “In the Eyes of a Beholder,” a 19th century circus motif in which all the performers, who are from the lower classes, look happy while the audience members, dressed up in the lavish Victorian costumes of high society, appear ugly.
While photography has been his mainstay, he has had an interesting and eventful life as a pilot, psychotherapist and talk show host, just to name a few of his endeavors.
Mr. Schoenfeld explains this by saying he shuns doing the same thing for more than five years, adding, “When you’re the best, you’re bored after five years. When you cannot be the best in the field after five years, it can’t be meaningful to pursue the same career any longer.”
One exception, however, is photography, which has been an endeavor ever since his father built a small darkroom for him when he was young. And he has reason to hold on to his camera: to deliver his messages.
“People tend to demonize the other side, which is actually suffering the same pain,” Mr. Schoenfeld said. “It’s the same anywhere you go. People want to have some good food, want their children to grow up healthy and want to be happy.” Then he added, “I wanted to show that there are much greater similarities than differences in the world.”

by Chun Su-jin

The exhibition runs until April 8, with an admission charge of 3,000 won ($3). The Kim Young-seob Photo Gallery’s Yujin and Atget halls, along the main street of Insa-dong, central Seoul, are open from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. For more information, call (02) 733-6331 or visit
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