Famed fashion photographer takes inspiration from renowned sculptor
Photography meets modern sculpture in a collaborative exhibition being held at PKM Gallery in Jongno District, central Seoul.
In "Images of Eternity: Kwon Jin Kyu x Mok Jungwook," fashion photographer Mok Jung-wook captured the self-portrait pieces of late sculptor Kwon Jin-kyu (1922-73), reinterpreting them in a contemporary perspective.
Although the exhibition displays Mok’s photographs, eight of Kwon’s sculptures — six of his self-portraits and one each of Jesus Christ and Buddha — are also on view. The gallery describes it as an attempt to transcend generations; a connection of the past and present, to provide an opportunity to contemplate on the meaning of “ars longa (art is long).”
From different angles and in various lighting, Mok captured these sculptures in 30 photographs.
Kwon is known as the pioneer of modern sculpture in Korea, particularly for his realistic and robust sculptures of his own face, depictions of animals and his female acquaintances. Kwon was fond of sculpting with clay and was pretty skilled at it even as a child. Kwon used terracotta and lacquer techniques to construct his own unique artworks that truly represent Korean realism.
Mok is famous for his work with the K-pop industry and has photographed stars like Blackpink, EXO, IU and BTS. He is the photographer behind TIME magazine’s cover of BTS after the boy band was chosen as Entertainer of the Year in November last year. Mok has also done fashion-related photoshoots for a number of magazines including Vogue, W Korea, ELLE, Harper’s Bazaar and GQ, in addition to collaborating with fashion brands like COS and Adidas, and high-end luxury brands Prada, Dior Cosmetics and Valentino.
In a press conference held on Nov. 25, when asked how he approached art photography which is considered to be a very separate area compared to fashion photography, Mok admitted that it was a challenge.
“Putting aside all the boundaries [between fashion and art], this was a special experience,” Mok said. “It was difficult because I had to fully portray the details of Kwon’s sculptures, like their material, and at the same time try to express my own thoughts and feelings toward each sculpture. It was hard to find the right balance.”
Mok said that he was stunned by how the eyes of the self-portraits were seemingly glistening with life. “I thought they were staring right back at me. The energy they carried was so profound that after working on my first draft of the photos, I got sick that night. I think it was my own body trying to fight back that energy because I didn’t want to be weak.”
Mok took the photos of Kwon’s sculptures from different viewpoints. For example, “Study of ‘Self-Portrait’ fig no. 35” (2021) and “Study of ‘Self-Portrait’ fig no. 42” (2021) each show the left side and frontal side of Kwon’s own face. The beauty of it lies in the light, says Mok.
“[Kwon's] self-portraits are extremely sensitive to light,” he said. “The matière [material] looks completely different depending on it.
“Of all the angles of Kwon’s self-portraits, I like the ones taken from the side the most. It shows how the direction of the self-portraits’ gaze is facing upward, very slightly. This sort of gaze shows Kwon’s progressive spirit, his strong opinions and persistence. I wanted to depict that [through the photographs].”
As well as Kwon’s self-portraits, Mok’s photographs of the sculptures of Jesus Christ and Buddha stand out. “Study of ‘Christ on Cross’ fig no. 79” is of Jesus Christ’s arm, while “Study of ‘Christ on Cross’ fig no. 67” is of the front side of the sculpture’s face, taken from a low angle. The dark background and dim lighting invites visitors to peer more closely into each photograph — to get a glimpse into Mok’s creative mind.
“Images of Eternity: Kwon Jin Kyu x Mok Jungwook” ends Dec. 28. Visitors can stop by the PKM Gallery every day, except Sundays and Mondays, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.
BY SHIN MIN-HEE, MOON SO-YOUNG [email@example.com]