Creating meaning in the mundane
“Photography is the art of extracting the inner meaning and life out of materials and people,” the 56-year-old photographer said during a recent interview at a cafe in front of the Musee d’Orsay here.
Koo’s works are currently on display at the Camera Obscura Gallery in Paris, which arguably has the finest collection of photography in the world and is known for hosting exhibitions of some of the top artists in the field.
The exhibition, which runs until Oct. 10, features 50 of the photographer’s most famous works, including pictures of Korean white porcelain from the Joseon Dynasty.
Koo sat down with the JoongAng Ilbo recently to talk about some of his latest works, the response to his exhibition and why he got into the field in the first place.
Q. What comments would you like to make about your current exhibition?
A. The photographs displayed in my exhibitions are of Korean white porcelain pieces that are currently on display at 14 different museums, a project that I spent the last three years working on.
Unlike Japan and China, our porcelain does not stand out as much but instead contains simple features. Those who do not have an aesthetic appreciation for art often are not able to recognize the beauty of Korean porcelain, so my aim was to bring out that beauty through the lens.
Also shown in my exhibition are pictures of used bars of soap, empty parking lots and boxes. I wanted to create a sense of meaning out of the things that most people take for granted in life.
Why did you decide to focus on porcelain?
Just like pottery, porcelain doesn’t have a smooth texture, nor does it have any patterns or pictures on it. But it possesses such an unceremonious beauty that I was determined to portray it through my pictures.
It has been four years since you held an exhibition in Paris. How would you assess the response to your current exhibit?
The majority of the people who came four years ago attended my exhibition again this year. Some said, “I bought three books of your collections.”
Others stated, “From the Western perspective, we find no meaning in plain old sculptures. But through your photographs, I found a new meaning in art.”
I appreciate the way people understand me here.
It seems like you have a sense of attachment with Paris.
Unlike other countries, art and photography in Paris don’t follow trends set by others but are highly distinguished through their own unique characteristics. That complies with what I am trying to portray in my works.
Your pieces differ from the current trends in the world of photography. Why have you taken this approach?
If everyone takes the same pictures, it’s no fun. I did take such pictures in the past but I developed a greater interest in the quiet beauty and nature of art.
Paris is a city that places more emphasis on individualism, and that is one of the main reasons why I like it.
Why did you become interested in photography?
Photos are the only way that you can capture the life and beauty of people and all things. Instead of letting the moment pass, capturing it in a picture is what I enjoy.
What else have you been working on?
For the past few years, I have been taking pictures of the cast iron pieces here placed at the corners of buildings and gate posts to protect them from the wheels of carriages and cars. I would like to keep the story of these pieces alive through my pictures.
By Jeon Jin-bae [firstname.lastname@example.org]