‘Being in time’ photographer finds his moment has come

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‘Being in time’ photographer finds his moment has come

NEW YORK ― The photographer is like a monk: Not only are his works greatly influenced by Buddhism, but his shaved head and even his name, Atta ― meaning “You and I are one” ― gives the impression that he’s just stepped out of a temple.
Yet Atta Kim, a Korean photographer, will be breaking two Buddhist values by holding a private exhibition ― monks should be selfless ― from Friday to Aug. 27 at the International Center of Photography in New York, one of the largest photo exhibition centers in the world ― monks should avoid grandeur.
He still talks like a monk, though. “Everything is just a being that disappears in time,” Kim said in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo at Julie Saul Gallery in Manhattan, where his piece, “DMZ,” a huge dark-blue work, is hung. Kim said the photographs that will be displayed in the coming exhibition are all based on that idea.
One of his most famous works is “Monologue of Ice, Portrait of Mao.” He took a series of photos of a melting ice bust of Mao Zedong, symbolizing a wish for world peace as well as an end to an ideological era.
The exhibition, titled “Atta Kim: On-Air,” is Kim’s first private museum exhibition in the United States. Not many photographers have the honor of holding a private exhibition in the International Center of Photography, he said, adding that he had to go through a long and thorough screening before he finally got the chance to hold his exhibition there.

The institute’s curator, Christopher Phillips, first became interested in Kim in 2001, when he joined an exhibition of 21 Asian photographers at the Queens Museum of Art. Kim said that his piece, “Museum Project,” which involved both compliments and criticism, interested Mr. Phillips. For the work, he posed a naked woman crouching in a transparent acrylic box that symbolizes custom and social norms and took photos of it against backgrounds of small Buddha statues or the inside of a department store.
After watching Kim’s work for a few years, Mr. Phillips told him in 2003 that he wanted to hold an exhibition for the artist. But Mr. Phillips’ backing wasn’t enough: In order to hold an exhibition, Kim needed to be approved by the board of directors for the institute.
“I was surprised to hear that the institute had secretly sent a world-class Japanese photographer, Hiroji Kubota, to Seoul to confirm that I was good enough to hold a private exhibition,” Kim said.
After Kim’s ability was recognized, the institute threw its full support behind Kim. “They allow me to reprint a photograph until I am satisfied, even though it costs about 5 million won ($5,268) to print each photo,” Kim said. At the exhibition, 25 of his works will be on display.
The International Center of Photography is also planning to hang Kim’s “Last Supper” on the outer wall of the institute, located in the heart of Manhattan, after blowing up the piece to 25 meters (82 feet) long and 5 meters tall.
When asked about the plans for his upcoming works, Kim said, “There’s nothing more [I can say] than that my works will be about the identity of being.”

by Nam Jeong-ho
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