Glimpsing life through the bookshelf : Lim Soo-sik reimagines the 18th-century chaekgado painting with photography

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Glimpsing life through the bookshelf : Lim Soo-sik reimagines the 18th-century chaekgado painting with photography

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Photographer Lim Soo-sik and a piece from his “Chaekgado” series. By photographing bookshelves, Lim said he feels like he’s getting into the minds of their owners. Chaekgado refers to traditional Korean paintings of bookshelves. [JEON MIN-GYU]

Inspiration can come from the most unusual places - like a bookshelf.

Bookshelves have been photographer Lim Soo-sik’s muse for the past nine years, and so far, Lim has photographed those belonging to 370 people. He has used those images to make about 150 pieces as part of his “Chaekgado” series.

The title is a reference to a unique Korean style of painting from the 18th century that depicted still-lives of bookshelves. By showing the books and objects arranged on shelves of intellectuals and visionaries, Korean artists expressed their yearning for knowledge.

Art historians say the perspective used in chaekgado is uncommon in East Asia and more reminiscent of old European art, raising the possibility that the style could have its roots in the European “cabinets of curiosities” dating back to the Renaissance era.

Lim has held numerous exhibitions drawing on the style, but he recently published his first book based on his work.

“I wanted to tell the stories behind the photographs, the stories about the owners of the bookshelves,” he said in a recent interview with the JoongAng Ilbo, an affiliate of the Korea JoongAng Daily.

Asked why he has numbered his pieces beginning with “Chaekgado 001” instead of giving them a title that references the owner of the shelf, Lim said it’s because he wants people to appreciate the work without bias.

“I never identify in my exhibitions whose bookshelves they are,” he said. “I want people to think, ‘What kind people owned this bookshelf and became who they are through [the objects]?’” He said it’s also fun for him to hear people guessing about the owners based on the contents of the photographs, and recalls a time when a visitor actually guessed right.

In fact, many of the owners of the bookshelves that Lim photographs are influential figures, including some of the biggest names in the Korean literary and arts circles such as writers, artists, scholars, critics and other intellectuals.

He also photographed the archives of institutions like the World’s Mystery Library in Busan, the Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art in Japan and the Ryugaheon Gallery in Seoul.

“Bookshelves, in my opinion, are the face of one’s inner self,” he said, pointing out how the spaces reflect interests and tastes of the owners.

“They are all different, never the same. Novelist Ahn Jung-hyo’s bookshelf was squeaky clean with no dust whatsoever. Yi In-hwa’s bookshelf was very analogue even though he specializes in digital media. Literary critic Kim Yeol-gyu’s bookshelf, on the other hand, seemed to be a microcosm of the ‘80s.”

But some of his most moving images don’t come from famous people, One photograph shows a bookshelf at a school for Koreans in Japan whose parents emigrated in the early 20th century, well before the 1950-53 Korean War. On it sits books from both South and North Korea, an aching sign of a divided nation.

Lim said he revisits the bookshelves he has photographed in the past to capture how they’ve changed. He says that as their owners age, bookshelves evolve.

As his favorite, Lim picked a bookshelf that belonged to Chon Young-ae, a writer and professor at Seoul National University, because it’s clear that “the books are all that matters, the center of it all.”

Some may be skeptical of the talent required to photograph a bookshelf, but Lim does much more than just take pictures. He takes several shots of each shelf, prints them on hanji (traditional Korean mulberry paper) and then sews the shelves together to re-form the bookshelf as a kind of quilt.

Lim purposefully chose hanji to give the images the kind of depth seen in chaekgado, as well as create more of a connection to the past.

The size of one complete photograph is usually 145 centimeters (4.8 feet) wide and 112 centimeters long, which makes the titles of the books on the shelves readable.

“I believe the more time you invest in a piece, the more energy [the artwork] absorbs,” he said, when asked why he chose to sew the pieces together. “There was a time when it took me more than 40 days to sew.”

After spending years sitting down and sewing the shelves together, Lim has developed neuralgia in his hips. Still, he said he values the time he spends sewing with his own hands. As he works, he reads the titles of each book on the shelves. “I feel like I’m reading the persons’ thoughts as well,” he said.

“Ultimately, I think, the whole process of making a chaekgado [through photography] as well as appreciating it,” he said, “is more than just looking at a work of art - it’s also an act of reading.”

Lim added that he will continue to photograph bookshelves.

“I plan to photograph 1,000 of them,” he said.


BY LEE JI-YOUNG, KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]





[먼지 한 톨 없는 안정효 책장부터 시간 멈춘 김열규 서재까지]


책장은 사진작가 임수식(42)씨가 10년을 따라다닌 피사체다. 2007년부터 370여 명의 책장을 찍었고, 그 중 150여 점을 책장 사진 연작 ‘책가도’ 로 만들었다. 그동안 국내외에서 여러 차례 ‘책가도’의 이름으로 전시회를 했던 그가 이번엔 책 『책가도』(카모마일북스)를 펴냈다.

“작품 이름에선 드러나지 않았던 책장 주인들 이야기를 책을 통해 들려주고 싶었다”는 그를 서울 부암동 ‘공간291’에서 만났다. 그가 뜻맞는 사진작가 몇몇과 협동조합을 만들어 2014년 문을 연 전시장이다.
 

Q : 작품 제목이 ‘책가도 001’부터 시작해 번호만 바뀐다.
A : “선입견에 따라 작품을 보지 않았으면 하는 바람에서 책장 주인의 이름을 제목에서 숨겼다. 전시회에서도 책장 주인에 대한 정보는 없앴다. 관람객들이 책장에 꽂힌 책 제목을 읽어가면서 ‘어떤 사람이 이 책들을 통해 어떻게 만들어졌을까’를 충분히 생각하도록 하고 싶어서였다. 책 틈에 놓인 소품이나 옛 사진 등을 단서 삼아 책장 주인을 짐작해보는 재미도 크지 않나. 한번은 어느 관람객이 ‘이건 김윤식 평론가 책장인 것같다’고 맞춰 놀란 적도 있다.”

그가 책에서 밝힌 책장 주인 중엔 내로라 하는 유명인이 상당수다. 김훈·황석영·한강·서영은·김용택·김홍신·이외수 등 문인들과 정병규·조세현·윤광준 등 예술인들이 그에게 책장을 공개했다. 부산 추리문학관, 일본 북해도미술관, 서울 통의동 류가헌 등의 서재도 그의 책가도에 등장한다.


Q : 책장 사진을 계속 찍는 이유는.
A : “책장은 책장 주인 내면의 얼굴이다. 저마다 다른 모습을 보여준다. 안정효 소설가의 책장엔 먼지 한 톨 없었고, 디지털스토리텔링에 관심 많은 이인화 이화여대 교수의 책장은 더없이 아날로그적이었다. 국문학자 고 김열규의 서재는 마치 1980년대에서 멈춰있는 것 같았다. 또 남북한 책이 섞여있는 일본 교토 조선중고급학교 도서실에선 분단의 현실을 느낄 수 있었다. 기록에 대한 의무감도 책가도 작업을 계속하게 만든다. 시간이 흐르면서 책장은 책 주인과 함께 변하고 소멸한다. 그 ‘변해가는 얼굴’을 책가도로 남기고 싶다.”

그는 자신이 가장 좋아하는 책장으로 독문학자 전영애 서울대 교수의 책장을 꼽았다. “책이 진짜 주인인 책장”이라는 이유에서다. 그리고 사진작가 구본창의 책장은 “책 주인의 취미와 관심사가 잘 드러난다는 점에서 조선시대 사대부의 책가도와 가장 많이 닮았다”고 말했다.

그는 “책가도 연작을 평생에 걸쳐 1000개까지 만들 계획”이라고 했다. “처음에 작품 번호를 세자릿수로 정해놓아버려 더 이상은 못한다”는 농담도 했다.

그의 책가도 작업은 간단치 않다. 책장 한 칸 한 칸의 사진을 그 칸의 책이 가장 잘 보이는 각도로 찍어 한지에 인쇄한 뒤, 이를 조각보 꿰매듯 손바느질로 이어붙여 작품을 만든다.

한지는 조선 후기 널리 유행했던 옛 그림(책가도)의 깊이를 사진예술로 표현하기 위해 그가 심사숙고 고른 소재다. 작품 크기는 대략 80호(145㎝×112㎝) 정도다. “책가도에선 책 제목이 잘 보여야 한다”는 그의 고집이 작품 크기를 키웠다.


Q : 손바느질에서 어떤 효과를 기대하나.
A : “작품에 시간이 많이 들어가면 에너지가 생긴다. 책가도 작품 하나 바느질하는 데 40일 넘게 걸릴 적도 있었다. 좌골신경통까지 생겼지만, 손바느질을 하면서 사진 속 책 제목들을 하나하나 읽다보면 그 책장 주인의 생각을 읽는다는 느낌을 받는다. 결국 책가도는 만드는 과정도, 보는 과정도 모두 ‘읽는 작업’이다.”


글=이지영 기자 jylee@joongang.co.kr
사진= 전민규 기자


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