TEXT - б
TITLE : Byeon Soojeong, "Conversation with the Artist", 2013
DATE : 02/24/2014 16:03

In BOOMOON CONSTELLATION,, Daegu Art Museum, Daegu, 2013

This text is from the conversation between artist and curator through e-mail during a preparation for an exhibition BOOMOON Constellation by Daegu Art Museum.


Your full name is Kwon Boomoon, but you introduce yourself simply as Boomoon to the English-speaking world.

My name consists of three Chinese characters: (kwon, authority), which is my surname; and (boo, wealth) and (moon, question), which were chosen by my father, and form my given name. When combined, the three characters mean, “to question authority and wealth.” The philosophical nature of my name has been a great personal influence throughout my life. Naming is of particular significance within cultures that use  languages based on Chinese characters, and in my case, thanks to my name, I think I have carried to this day a profusion of questions about the world and life.

I decided to drop my surname and introduce myself as Boomoon to the English-speaking world because, unlike how in Korean society one is always referred to by one’s full name in professional relationships, some of the foreigners I befriended through work would call me by my given name only, and this would reaffirm for me my initial resolution as an artist. The publication of Boomoon, my first monograph to be released in the United States in 1999, was an important turning point in my life and my work, so I thought it would be good to give myself a new name as I came into contact with a new world. I took out my surname partly as an expression of my desire to free myself from the shackles of convention that comes with family and social customs. A free mind, fettered by nothing in this world, was the theme presented to me by my father when he named me Boomoon, and in my twenties it served as the motto of my life that I had inherited from him.


Why photography? I’d like to know why you chose to be a photographer, and how you started your career.

When I was little, I loved going to the movies. We didn’t own a television, so I spent most of my waking hours at the local cinema. Movies, as well as American magazines such as Life and Look, were what allowed me to dream of other worlds beyond my given reality. There was a time when I wanted to be a filmmaker, but to me moving images were a distant, intangible medium. I always loved to draw ever since I was a child, and joined the art club throughout school. When I was sixteen, my father gave me his Zeiss Ikon Ikonflex camera, and I used it to take my first still photograph. The process of trial and error through which I taught myself how to develop negatives and make prints was absurd, but I was instantly fascinated by the immediacy, which I had not experienced in drawing. A strong desire to understand the world through images made me choose to become a photographer, but that desire was a dream shared by many amongst my generation.  The time had arrived when people could pictures just as easily as they spoke. Photography has served, and continues to serve, as a reagent, a cure, in my process of understanding the world.

I went to college, but the experience was disappointing, which was why I indulged in the social landscape on the streets outside campus. And thanks to that indulgence, I still have photographs from when I was eighteen, nineteen. The product of expanding my consciousness through capturing city landscapes was my first solo exhibition titled Photo Poems, held in the spring of 1975 in Seoul and then Daegu. It was a collection of images of Seoul, Busan, and Daegu in the early 1970s, expressing the atmosphere of these cities caught up in the heat of modernization, and of heavy oppression. At the time so-called “realism” and “salon pictures” were dominant in photography, and Photo Poems was in part a declaration of my rejection of such images. But it was a far cry from a presentation of my ideas as topics for discourse. The exhibition was held as the result of my disappointment in the predominance of amateurism in photography at the time. I had wanted to wrap up my career as a photographer and move on to another medium of expression. When the exhibition was subjected to severe criticism, however, I instead determined to continue taking pictures, and have continued doing so to this day.


In the late 1980s, you began capturing vast natural sceneries without human figures, and now the majority of your collection is landscape photography. What inspired this shift?

I am no naturalist. I had merely lost all curiosity in human society, and found myself standing before nature. How do you explain the perpetual deterioration of human society, if conscious intervention by a human being, a photographer in this case, could improve and meaningfully impact society? I find the very notion delusional and egocentric. Landscapes are like clouds in the wind depending on the state of my mind and interpretation. Their presence could either be impossible to ignore, or so inconspicuous that I would pass by without so much as a glance. Landscapes are always in a state of flux. A landscape becomes an image through my interaction with the world, and this process elevates my spirit. In my work, humanity does not belong within the frame, but rather behind the camera as I had been, facing the image unfolding before their eyes.


Contemporary landscape photography consists mostly of cultural and social landscapes. Through images of nature that do not follow such trends, you seem to pursue values that are more fundamental in your landscape photography. In fact, the way you travel to various corners of the world on foot with a heavy load of equipment, makes it seem as if you were a pilgrim on a quest for a timeless truth.

Photography taught me how to keep a distance, which is how one keeps oneself from being swept away by the tide of the times, and gets closer to the essence. Photography demands that a photographer not only keeps a physical distance between camera and object, but also understands the position from which we view the world and to keep a distance from what is obvious or deceptive. Persons who deal with photographic images must use the power of recognition to render a familiar object unfamiliar, and thereby allow the object to make a novel statement. And I realized that the success of such endeavor relies not on one-time gestures, but on one’s attitude towards life.

A “trend” had been the product of discourse, but nowadays at a time when the speed of information transmission is at its peak, trends have been reduced to the repetitive reproduction of novelty. Even if a photograph is used effectively in all sorts of art carnivals and various discussions, if the photographer refuses to follow trends blindly, I believe his work will have nothing to do with what is trendy. Even the most dazzling vocabulary becomes the cause of personal embarrassment after it has been overused in society, eliminating not only its emotional impact but also one’s will to ever use that word again. If one were to load an image with too many concepts and excessive meaning that can only be limited, then the image cannot take on a life of its own and survive through the many years to come.

There exists a wide range of photography today, but the photography of my choice is all about the joy of standing in front of the object of my work. Spiritual pursuits decoupled from reality are not where I am headed. Travel, for me, is a method by means of which I expand my life’s horizons.


This exhibition Constellation features eight of your photography series, you have done since 1990s. The prints will be installed in eight separate rooms, but in a way that interconnects the different locations and times showcased through each series. What was your intention behind the installation?

This exhibition was an opportunity for me to realize an idea that I had for the past twenty years in an actual space. In 1989, I held an exhibition at the Inkong Gallery in Seoul with the largest C-prints in Korea at the time (124 x 180 cm), which would test the limitations of the power of photographs as reproduced images. Not until as late as 2006 was I able to make large-scale prints, and design my exhibitions accordingly. Large-scale prints allow the viewer to see the image as less of a text and more of a phenomenon, recreating the experience of standing behind the camera the moment when the shutter closes. For my exhibition at the Chapelle Saint-Louis de la Salpêtrière in Paris in 1997, I experienced how the architectural space of the exhibition venue and the photographed images combined to create a new space, and began dreaming of making rooms of imagery. The rooms filled with images are new spaces created from a collection of experiences from real locations, and from the thought that the collection of such rooms also gives birth to a whole other space and time, I named the exhibition Constellation. In these rooms, situations take place that are different from the pace of taking pictures I had experienced on location. To hold an exhibition is to pursue such unknown places.


Though consistent in their approach, these series show subtle differences in terms of technique and aesthetics. In your opinion, what are the intended and unintended elements that appear through your work?

My work does not entail the realization of any preconceived concepts or ideas. For me, an image is in itself an event that I have experienced. Images are brought into the world through the filter of an artist, and sometimes taking pictures has even felt as though it were my calling. Even the series To the Stones was not executed based on any collection of preselected items, but rather chance encounters with objects that arrested a passerby’s attention were rendered into photographic images, which were then put together as a single series. However, the process of turning an image into a work of art should be approached with great caution. In photography, the final selection is just as important as the act of taking pictures. During that process, the photographer develops a purpose or is struck by a concept for the final set of images.


Overall, these series tend to feel static and compositional. The near-monochromatic use of color in Sansu, Naksan and Byeongsan further emphasizes this characteristic. On the other hand, In the Woods and Northscape feature primary colors and vibrant tones, which, combined with a near all-over composition, create a greater sense of materiality.

I don’t think of my work as being static or compositional. Naksan captures the ferocity of a blizzard over crashing waves at sea, with the brutal snowfall threatening to overwhelm the frame. Color is a phenomenon that occurs through the interaction of the light. I chose to print my snow landscapes in black and white in order to eliminate the heat or cold of color. The series In the Woods is the product of spending time in the woods, and the intense green I experienced led me to choose all-over printing. In general, photos of the forest focus on the sensitivity of a forest, or present a variety of different forests. On the other hand, In the Woods was a process of finding a certain harmony within chaos. I like thick, maze-like forests that I can lose myself in. That is because the greater the chaos, the greater the meaning of harmony found in that chaos.

Northscape was the product of my search for scenery that renders all words and meanings obsolete. In the icy fields of the extreme north, one must abandon the conventional standards and habits for estimating and interpreting space. There, one encounters the fantastical scene of an absolute horizon, which simply obliterates the scale of everyday life. At seeing the layers upon layers of clear Northern Lights, as well as the indescribable form and translucent colors of the drift ice, I stopped trying to clarify the perspective through which I was reading the scenery in front of me, and I myself became a part of the scenery and experienced the relationships between its various components.


The imagery used for On the Clouds is reminiscent of minimalist paintings, showing a clear visual divergence from your other works. How is this interpreted?

Ever since I took up photography, I have always had a fixation on the idea of the absolute horizon, which is a kind of subjective point of contact between two spaces that leads to the realm of infinity. On the Clouds resulted from the pursuit of extreme simplicity through the medium of photography. Clouds are objects without defined form and the horizon created by clouds is in fact a mere illusion. Although my work may come closer to abstract art than nature photography, I think that On the Clouds is exceptionally photographic in that a natural phenomenon was captured as an image. The convergence of skies from different times and places reveal a fantastical view of the vast expanse of the heavens.


Featured in this exhibition is your work Stargazing, a video installation displayed across 32 screens. Should this be interpreted as your interest in other media?

Photography today is not the same medium invented by Louis Daguerre in the 19th century. As with other mediums these days, photography has been expanding at too great a speed for one to insist on limiting its definition as images printed on paper. It is important that photographers understand that the development of imaging technology is an ongoing one. Photographed images are immaterial by nature, and thus can be presented on any medium. Whether an image is projected on the walls inside a rock cave, the screen inside a camera obscura, or a computer monitor, I focus my attention on the different methods and possibilities of creating that image.

Stargazing is a sequence of still photographs of the night sky, juxtaposed and interconnected into a single screen. In 2002 when I made the stills of On the Clouds and Stargazing into videos, I began my attempt to diversify the medium of printing by using photoelectric element panels instead of the more traditional method of printing on paper. The images of stars taken from different spots around the world are juxtaposed to create a new time frame and new movements. Through this movement of stars, which is different from that of nature, I attempted to give the stars a new form that corresponds with the imagination and experience of a person who sees the stars from the ground.


Stargazing is a tribute to night skies of various shades and stars of glittering luminosity that never fail to quicken our heartbeats and allow us to dream as we once did, in yearning for unknown, ideal worlds. However, it seems our wounds today are too deep and grave to be comforted by such dreams. What do you think?

The stars have always been prominent poetic themes and are somewhat difficult to present through the exacting medium of photography. Though it may seem that the times when we sang about the stars are far behind us, look up to the sky on a clear night, and you’ll see that the stars are still shining upon us. When I ask myself just how effective are the provocative images intended to raise awareness of the destructive aspects of our world, I am skeptical. I am suspicious of the claims of ethical intent in capturing the pain of others as a subject for press photographs, and often notice how people’s initial response the pain witnessed fails to last. Was there ever a time when humanity did not suffer from pain? Isn’t salvation about pursuing, in spite of it all, the values of truth and dignity, about dreaming of eternity?


This exhibition was planned not as a retrospective, but as an attempt to highlight your work as an accomplished artist in his prime. What are some of the changes that you plan to make or anticipate following this exhibition?


(translated from the korean by jayoon Choi)