Photographs of a rural past, as it disappeared

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Photographs of a rural past, as it disappeared

Black and white photographs of rural Korean towns taken during the 1970s, 80s and 90s are on display in a remote gallery in Gyeonggi province. The images depict life in the countryside in a sentimental but realistic way.
Gallery Wa, located in Yangpyeong, says the pictures are a historical record, documenting patterns of society and explaining its foundations.
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The exhibition features works by influential documentary photographers Kang Woon-gu, Kwon Tae-kyun and Heo Yong-moo. The exhibition is titled “Short Chronology” and covers years that brought the biggest changes to Korea, in the form of industrial development and urban migration.
Mr. Kang portrayed people’s lives before these changes. It was a time when extended families lived in straw-thatched houses. They were closest to nature and appeared to be in harmony with the environment.
In one picture titled “Geoje, South Gyeongsang province, 1974,” Mr. Kang shows a small wooden ferryboat packed with people and luggage. The boat was the link between a fishing village and the mainland. An old woman dozes next to briquettes while other passengers have weary looks on their faces. Mr. Kang once called these images “fossils remaining as photographs.”
Mr. Kwon, 50, took pictures of a rural village before it was immersed in water because of a dam project. In one picture titled “Sugok-ri Imdong-myeon Andong, 1989,” Mr. Kwon shows an extended family having a simple but warm meal before they were scattered to strange new places. It was the last New Year’s Day they were going to have in that village, and the eldest grandson of the head family weeps in front of a name tablet dedicated to his ancestors.
Mr. Heo, 41, described rural towns that were in disarray as they lost their young population to cities. The photographs he took in Jeongseon and Yeongwol, Gangwon province, and in Bonghwa, North Gyeongsang province, show half-empty places with only the old and weak. The towns are cozy and reminiscent of loving memories, but the residents appear lonely and isolated.


by Limb Jae-un

The gallery is open daily 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., except Mondays. The exhibition continues until Nov. 27. For information, call (031) 771-5454 or visit www.gallerywa.net.
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