Pain, growth and urban landscapes

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Pain, growth and urban landscapes

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“Seoul,” by Jun Min-cho, documents what 30 years of change mean to the capital city of a developing nation. It shows the transition the Koreans underwent during the course of modernization, the tension between tradition and modern development and the nostalgia the black-and-white prints evoke in contemporary viewers.
The book, which puts together 81 pieces divided into seven chapters from the photographer’s works from 1969 to the 1990s, concentrates on the social landscape of Seoul, where Jun worked as a photo journalist for a daily newspaper.
The images captured by Jun’s lens provide a startling view of the changes the country has undergone over the last three decades. They allow the audience to sympathize with the social landscape in which Koreans live today as a reaction to the speed of change and the dramatic gap between their impoverished past and abundant present.
The images include one of a laborer taking a nap in a handcart against the backdrop of a tall building under construction and an old homeless man, exhausted, browsing through a book while leaning against the entrance of a cafe adorned with a giant picture of Rodin.
It’s notable that Jun pays attention to women as a symbol of perseverence.
There is an image of Park Jong-chul’s mother clad in a white worshipping veil made out of white cotton, which seems to be a handkerchief, during a funerary mass held in Myeongdong Cathedral for her son’s death. Park was a student protester who was tortured to death by police investigators.
There is another woman desperately treading water in a flood, holding a bag in one hand and a basket full of daily utensils in the other.
In another photo, a young mother clad in a shabby outfit stares at the image of Marylin Monroe.
Jun, whose works recently came out as a photo book, recalls in his foreword that Seoul was a serious but vital city.
“Hemingway used to say that Paris is like a city of a moving feast that remains in your heart,” he writes. “But no matter how artistic Paris was, there couldn’t have been a more pleasurable memory than wandering around the streets of Seoul with a camera.”
He said his memory of Seoul was a precious experience that he wouldn’t exchange for anything. Perhaps that says a lot about a classic exhibit of nostalgic photographs of our past.


by Park Soo-mee

The book “Seoul” is 144 pages, and can be purchased at Gallery Kim for 45,000 won ($47). For more information, call (02) 733-6331.
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