Former news photographer captures Korea in flux

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Former news photographer captures Korea in flux

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Work by Chung Bum-tai, considered by many to be one of Korea’s foremost realist photographers, will feature in a personal exhibition on display at the Kim Young Seob Photo Gallery until April 27.
The 30 images in the show, titled “50 Years of Photography,” will include works which outline the artist’s career.
Mr. Chung’s career started when he joined the Chosun Ilbo as a photographer in 1956. For almost 40 years ― until 1997 ― he worked as a photographer for Korean newspapers, including the Hankook Ilbo and Segye Ilbo.
His background as a news photographer clearly influences the documentary nature of almost all his photographs.
“The Defining Moment,” which was chosen by the artist as the photograph he feels the most attached to, was taken in 1961 while working for the Chosun Ilbo and at a time when military trials were often held in an attempt to expose cases of corruption and graft in the Korean government. Mr. Chung captured a significant moment when, as a female prisoner in a military trial stood in front of the judge for sentencing, her young child walked up to her and took her hand. The child’s wide-eyed face, unaware of the situation, contrasts with the mother’s drooped head.
Another photograph on display, “Life and Death,” shows the life and death situation in a small chicken store in Namdaemun, as one chicken hangs dead with its feathers plucked while another bird stands alive and erect, its feathers intact.
Mr. Chung’s work is full of contradictions and metaphors, confrontational at times and humorous at others. His lens is always fixed on a struggling Korea. However, his subjects seem to be either unaware of their bleak surroundings or have expressions that seem to imply that they transcend their impoverished environment.
An example of this detachment is “1957 Seoul Bukchang-dong,” in which a little girl yawns as she sits in a messy stall full of chicken feet. The deformed chicken feet seem to be an irrelevant part of her life that she ignores as she rests.
Having experienced the dynamic changes in modern Korean history as a news photographer during the latter part of the 20th century, Mr. Chung’s images highlight vital scenes of the cultural and social atmosphere. As a result, his photographs are spontaneous and “current.”
However, his artistic credibility can be found in his instincts to make the spontaneous photographs appear harmonious.


by Cho Jae-eun

Chung Bum-tai’s exhibition at the Kim Young Seob Photo Gallery runs until April 27.
The Kim Young Seob Photo Gallery opens from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Mondays through Sundays. The gallery is located in Insa-dong, northern Seoul.
The nearest subway station is Anguk station, line No. 3, exit 6.
For more information, call (02) 733-6331 or visit http://gallerykim.com.
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