Photographs bring history into focus

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Photographs bring history into focus


A card section depicts Chun Doo Hwan and his wife in 1984. Provided by the artist

With Korea’s 18th presidential election just around the corner, the Art Link gallery is the place to go for some quiet reflection on the severity and transience of power against the light and shadows in the works of 61-year-old photojournalist Choi Jae-yeong.


The funeral of Park Chung Hee in 1979

The “Memento Mori” exhibition at the fine arts gallery in central Seoul traces the lives of seven presidents - Park Chung Hee, Chun Doo Hwan, Roh Tae-woo, Kim Young-sam, Kim Dae-jung, Roh Moo-hyun, Lee Myung-bak - and presidential candidate Chung Ju-yung.

Choi began his career as a photographer in 1976 with Dong-A Ilbo and moved to the Joongang Ilbo in 1978. He has spent 35 years as an observer and chronicler of the political scene. Until his retirement last August, Choi had regular access to the Blue House, the National Assembly and the truce village of Panmunjeom. He currently works as an independent photographer and was appointed vice president of 11th Dong Gang International Photography Festival.

Some of the most notable works of the exhibition include a picture of Chun Doo Hwan’s card section. At the opening ceremony of the 1984 National Sports Festival, a section of people held up cards portraying the president and first lady.

Promotion of sports was an important part of Chun’s policy to keep the public from any political awakening. The card photograph effectively captures the dichotomy of dictatorship, the spirit of sports used as a tool of political oppression and expressions on the faces of ordinary Koreans obscured by flawless card portraits of the presidential couple.

Another photograph shows former President Roh Moo-Hyun running against now president Lee Myung-bak for the Assembly seat in Jongno District, central Seoul, in 1996. The photograph is all the more powerful in light of the subsequent paths of the two men. In the general election, Roh lost to Lee, but he later won the seat in a by-election after Lee resigned because of a violation of election law. Subsequently, Roh was elected president and committed suicide after leaving office. Lee succeeded him as president.


Kim Dae-jung campaigning in 1987

Also included in the exhibition are pictures of the nation mourning Park Chung Hee at his state funeral in 1979, Kim Dae-jung delivering a speech under tight security and Kim Young-sam having noodles for lunch.

By Diane Lee Contributing writer []

* The exhibition runs through Sept. 28. Hours are 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 6 p.m. Sunday. Go to Anguk Station, line No. 3, exit 1. For more information, visit or call (02)738-0738.
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