Monthly Archives: March 2014

Blocks, Chanmin Park


Every time that I have gone to Korea I have been absolutely astounded by the pace and the sheer volume of hi-rise apartment construction. While most of this astonishment has been a general sense of enormity suggested by the breadth of this construction, over my last several visits I have been able to watch one particular development being built across from my mother in law’s apartment complex. What was once a small tangle of streets forming a neighborhood is now a construction site from which half a dozen towers are rising. (Alan, the post office from which we sent the DIY first issue letter is now gone and its postmark now rare, if not valuable.) This development sits directly between two existing developments and within spitting distance of at least three other new developments.
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The Memories of Floating Times, Kim Youngsoo

The topic of urban housing has lately been popping up across all of the media that I consume. Given that fact, I was planning to write about Chanmin Park’s Blocks today as it would fit the trend. When I went to pull it off of the bookshelf, I pulled another book instead. The Memories of Floating Times just called to me to take it down off the shelf. I am not sure why this unassuming book that I’d never taken much note of grabbed my attention today, but it did. Blocks will have to wait another week.

The Memories of Floating Times isn’t so off topic from urban housing. Two articles I came across today seem particularly apropros lead ins to TMoFT: Stan Banos on his Reciprocity Failure blog linked to this PBS NewsHour segment on how Google’s busing of workers has become a hot button issue in regards to gentrification in San Francisco; at the NY Times, this article lays out how a young state assemblyman and his protege helped keep a Lower East Side (NYC) lot vacant for nearly half a century in order ostensibly to maintain the demographic make up of a neighborhood in order to solidify their political base.

How do we get from San Francisco and New York to Korea? TMoFT‘s very brief introductory text in English (there is a much more comprehensive text in Korean) describes the photographs in the book as capturing “the vivid realities of the back streets’ scenery of Korean society when it had just entered into rapid industrialization.” What comes after the photographs in this book is a welcoming of the kind of gentrification being bemoaned in San Francisco and an abhorrence of the kind of delay and foot dragging represented by Silver and Rapfogel in New York. The pace of building has been swift (if not always without dissent or missteps)

After a lengthy essay, the photographic plates begin. We are first greeted by a boy in his early(?) teens with a black eye staring rather balefully directly into the camera. He is followed by two delivery boys, one holding a still common delivery container for Chinese food and the other with a roll of newspapers tucked under his arm. The portraits continue: a barista (this isn’t last week?!), two students carrying leather briefcases that scream “Yuppie!”, a topless woman, a cop, a mailman, an ajashi, a woman in a hanbok, a monk smoking a cigarette, an ajumma, a motorcycle deliveryman, a man with a contorted face, a man in a dirty camouflage shirt and rubber gloves, a bearded old man in traditional Korean garb, a clean shaven old man in western garb, a young girl in a hanbok, a chef who looks away. All but a handful are three quarter length formal portraits in front of a gray studio backdrop. Like all of the photos on the book, they are taken on 35mm film and printed (and reproduced in the book) with the filed out film carrier showing a rebate running around the photograph.

We move outdoors; more portraits: an ajashi in an alley, two women cooking behind him; a taxi driver draped nonchalantly on the hood of his taxi; a motorcycle cop, traffic dense behind him; a bell hop standing tall; a soldier also standing tall; an ajashi in a dirty button down shirt with enormous lapels; a hip young(ish) woman in a leather jacket standing in front of racks of cloths looking fiercely into the camera; a man through a narrow window; a man in a record shop (or radio studio?); a man behind a barred window; a man in front of a fenced off area; a bartender, a woman, a boy holding a tiger mask over his face; a little person, hands in his pockets; a cobbler, his glasses askew; three men selling watches out of doors; a goateed man wearing a dock workers cap selling wind-up toys; an old man holding a creased Korean flag; a lunch counter waiter sitting on the ground on a folded newspaper outside of his booth; a man in jacket and slacks sitting slackly on the ground and covering his face with his hand; a poor person in dark rags hunched over a square bin, his head down, his back to a wall of heavy stone blocks; a man without shoes laying on the ground with his head in a large basket; a man in tattered cloths leaning against a pole that splits the photograph left and right, his back to the camera, a more affluent crowd walking towards the camera left of the pole; a man splayed on the ground (drunk? fallen?) wrapped around a pole. I could be just as easily cataloging the people I saw on the street in Seoul two weeks ago as those portrayed in Kim’s photographs. I am reminded, too, of August Sander, though without the formality or pomp.

Objects, one tightly composed still life per spread on the right hand page: dead bird, fish heads, shoes, dead plant, tattered kettle, ice covered cigarette advert, vinyl and hand lettered sign; rough metal surface rich with texture.

And now vignettes: a stack of books held under an arm; the train of a wedding dress splayed on a curb; a memorial; a door with a cross; the torn remnant of a paper poster pasted on a pole; a cafe; an old door; a door with six padlocks; burlap flaps over windows; a worn out chair; a worn out easy chair in a dilapidated building; a radio tied to the wall; another dead plant; a bare light bulb above cooking utensils; a rudimentary kitchen; a broken clock beside a flue(or an oven?); a pigeon alighting from garbage cans; a brick corner; an outdoor platform; urinals (the first image in the book to run across the gutter); a well (?); a make shift wooden foot bridge crossing a stream; a bus painted entirely white; inside the white bus; another bus resting headlong against a pile of boxes; another old bus shoved to the side of the road surrounded by bushes and covered with a tarp; yet another dilapidated bus burnt out and resting on its side; a burnt out car without wheels; a pile of cardboard and carts in front of a mural; a cart leaning against a pine tree; a sagging patched shingle wall; canvas tents and canvas fence with tall buildings in background. The American photographer Walker Evans comes to mind when I look at these images.

More vignettes: bedding, patterned, plain, plaid, folded and wrapped; a tangle of traditionally roofed buildings; an aperture through a variegated, patched and improvised building; a low slung concrete building, its corrugated steel roof leading back to the traditional roof of the building behind it; an alleyway and an electric pole; looking out over the roofs of a knotted neighborhood; refuse and debris; the narrow side elevation of a building; a stairway; layered roofs; an alleyway curving into the light; a door beneath a rock; a door from a cockeyed angle; the side of a building with a pole beside it; the side of a building dappled by the shadow of sunlight filtering through the branches of a tree and with a pole in front of it; a corrugated steel fence; two discarded sofas, a wall and a tree; building seen from a low vantage point; building seen from a high vantage point; rain falling on traditional tiled roofs; looking downhill on a tight knot of traditional tiled roofs; hazy view of tile roofed buildings seen from above; second hazy view of tile roofed buildings with a hazier set of buildings further in the distance; a canal with a new road and contemporary concrete block building behind it (this is the second photograph that runs across the gutter); two trees behind a wall (also running across the gutter).

The book’s final chapter comprises more photographs of buildings. I am going to conclude this review with a few thoughts on one image, the first image, in this chapter. The photographs is of a partially roofed outdoor market. We are in the first of two arcades, looking through it towards the second. Above us, the roof is missing a number of it’s corrugated fiberglass panels. The second three story arcade is similarly roofed. The photographic frame compresses it’s three delta roof line so that it merges and blends into the second story of the arcade we are in. The center of the photograph is a clear, paper white, blown out section of sky. It is shaped like an invading UFO from Asteroids. This clean space brings to mind–in my mind, the future. In the midst of the clutter of the present, an image of the future is being constructed. In the midst of the clutter of these images is the foundation of the coming future that is now the present.

The Memories of Floating Time
Kim Youngsoo
Essay by
Published by Youl Hwn Dang Publisher
Printed in Korea

Site Note: New Content

For 2014 one of my initiatives for this blog is to begin conducting and publishing interviews with photographers, publishers, book designers and book dealers working in Korea. On a recent trip I did the first of these interviews. I hope to have the interview transcribed, translated, edited and posted by the end of the month.

Thank you to Hyojoon, Eunhye and Daiwoong of Corners for generously sharing their time with me and kicking off this series of interviews. (There is no schedule or timeline for this “series,” but it will be a series.) Thank you also to Jimin Han for acting as my translator and helping me to conduct the interview.

I believe that this kind of content offers a worthwhile expansion while furthering my goals for the site.

A Forest Three Meters Squared, Yuri An

As the youngest descendant of all dying things
am here.

This is the last line from Yuri An’s poem “I Will, I Was / For My Death” and an apt summation of A Forest Three Meters Squared. The poems and photographs in the book are heavy with worry. An anxiety is pervasive–and yet there is also hopeful desire and affirmative longing.

The photographs worry at the edges of the quotidian and find dark images beneath the surface. A dark dock stretches out into a lake, the light in the sky reaching down in a delta shape echoing and refuting the darkness of the dock. A dark frame with an circular image fragment at its center, below it a sunset with the circular fragment missing from its center. A tangle of dense greenery bursting forward. The mottled reflection of light on water, a dark band of shadow cutting across it. The red moon hangs in a dark sky partly obscured by tree branches. A plane screams across the sky leaving a dark contrail to trace its path inevitably bound to dissipate and disappear. All the images underscored with the tessellated jaggedness of a video grab–suggestion of a continuity interrupted.

The photographs sit at the book’s center. From one direction the poetry can be read in Korean. Flip the book over and from the opposite direction the poetry can be read in English. Either way, one ends at the photographs in the center. At the center is the visual image.

An asks in the book’s preface, “when all people shared the same language did they understand each other? Did they share the same dream?” Living in a strange place, away from home and distanced by language, An’s fears spring from opportunity and possibility as much as from strangeness. Complete homogeneity no more guarantees intimacy than does the foreign guarantee alienation. A shared language is not understanding. An image shared is not an idea conveyed. A memory shared is not forever; how does the tree share your secret?

From “Irreconcilable Time,” the first poem in the book:

For some time, I
have locked up time
instilled your memories in my room
Sealed traces, airtight
Living moments, captured, freshly picked
What you and I exchanged

I can’t say that I understand the poems (that is as likely my own failing as any issue with the translation) or that I have understood the book’s particulars. I do understand the longing and the fear. I have my own room in which I seal traces. The moments once living, once freshly picked, now captured. But, they’ll be gone soon enough.

A Forest Three Meters Squared
Written, photographed and designed by An (email)
Proofread by:
Kyoung mee choi (sic)
Eunsoo Lee
Jinah Lee
Andrew McCullough
Noga Harel
Production: Gerrit Rietveld Academie

In Between, Taeyoung Kang

As usual, I returned from Seoul with a suitcase full of books. Because of my limited time for browsing for books during my brief trips, I generally err on the side of caution and buy a book if I see some detail that I think bodes well: a design flourish, a single image that catches my eye, a weight or density. This generally works well for me. Sometimes it doesn’t.

Taeyoung Kang’s In Between is full of promise. The simple and distinctive Aprilsnow Press’ cover design with a photo tipped into the bright red linen is an opening salvo. It calls out from the book shelf. On a cursory glance through, there are numerous wonderfully composed and engaging photographs.

A WB Yeats quote from “Sailing to Byzantium” sets the book’s tone: “Whatever is begotten, born and dies.” The first several pictures take this cue and run with it. The first picture is two empty shell sitting beside several small plants in loose soil; the caption tells us this is in a cemetery. It is followed by a pair of landscapes of the tombs in Gyung-ju; in the first, two boys wearing white back to back stepping away from one another as though dueling; in the second, picture there is only one boy, crouching. The next picture is a boy playing in a ruin; he appears to levitate off the ground, his head poking into a window in the ruin. From this strange and slightly unsettling opening, the book begins to wander.

The wandering is literal and figurative. We are brought to France, back to Korea, then on to Mauritius, Switzerland, Hong Kong, the US, Turkey, Jordan, Italy, Germany, Syria and England. All are revisited throughout the book. It is a whirlwind world tour of the everyday: street scenes, still life vignettes, grand landscapes and portraits.

Though we may travel the world, we are not among a family of man. This is not some grand statement of unity. Instead we are in a space of “between-ness”. In our shifting location we are never “here”; we are always moving between. The photographs hover between light and dark: a young girl on the edge of a pool of light steps out into the dark surround; a boy hides behind a lamp post’s silhouette before a luminous background of dirt; a man directly under a light in a restaurant covers his face; a young woman at a bar sits in a pool of light looking out at the crowd surrounding her recede into darkness. We are often divided from the subjects we view: they are half hidden by other objects in the scene; they are partly erased by reflections in glass; or they are covered by shadow. Or the we catch a moment between moments: a pair of people in mid-step, their weight neither still on the top step or yet on the bottom step; a man leaning over to lift a brazier of coals, his hand pulling on its handle but not yet taking its weight.

This is a book that I wanted to like it and expected to. There are many lovely images and as an object the book is nicely designed, printed and put together. It looks great on my book shelf. Any number of the photographs would look wonderful framed on the wall. However, the wandering is too great. We cover too much territory. A third of the images could have been left on the editing table. Flipping through the book too many images pull me from the rhythm and disrupt the flow. I can’t find reason for transitions between images; I’m not sure what I am meant to come to understand through reading this book.

In Between
Taeyoung Kang
with text by Kay Jun
Edited and Designed by Kay Jun, Jeong Jae-wan
Proofread by Kang Young-gyu
Translated by Angelina Gieun Lee
Printed by Munsung Printing
Published by Aprilsnow Press
First edition January 2013

Walk Zine Project, Storage Book&Film

Browsing through the shelves at Your-Mind Bookshop last night (I’m in Seoul unexpectedly for a week), I noticed that among the various designations of book type, generally, broken down by content medium, there was also a “Travelogue” designation. This was one of the only designations that was a genre rather than a medium. On this shelf journalistic text met illustration met design met photography met music met poetry. Looking at this shelf, it struck me that this travelogue genre is a bit like the road trip genre in the States.

As in any genre, there is a clear set of assumptions and expectations. It is the small tweaks to the formula that make a book interesting. Recent examples reviewed here include Eunhye Kim’s Berlin and London rough risograph books and Oh SeBeom’s mixture of photographs, diary, and mapping in 31 Days 807.3km. Oh’s book is particularly effective at matching good content to good design to create an effective and enticing whole.

Storage Book&Film‘s Walk zine project is what the project title suggests: walks taken through foreign places. We might read them as either a single walk through a city or as a mediated archetypal walk through that place. Simply designed–both in their layout and physical form, the zines leave the photographs to stand or fall on their own. Your-Mind had three of these zines: Walk Seoul, Walk Paris and Walk Nice. (This may be the entire series to date.) The first is from COZYSACOZY (Sanpo) and the second two are from TOGOFOTO.

TOGOFOTO tends towards open landscapes. Even the close-ups are from mid-distance. In Nice it is the beaches and walkways overlooking them that holds his attention. In Paris, it is store fronts, landmarks, crowds and tourists. In both locations, when we see people we see over their shoulder. We are part of a crowd looking.

COZYSACOZY moves in and out from detail to distance and back to detail. Shop interiors, food, nature in the city, vignettes. There are few people; they are either seen at a distance or truncated to a hand holding a flower, shoes in fallen leaves, boots walking past a merchant’s stall.

These are the rules: Uplifting Color; Respectful Distance; Suggestion; Directness; Wonder. COZYSACOZY’s Tumbler heading text is a good summation of the essence of the travelogue:

one scene +
one scene +
one scene …
my life.

There is nothing revolutionary here. An appropriate description of these zines might be bourgeoisie. The photographs are nice and show much, but they make me feel little. The cover image of Walk Nice is a couple sitting on a bench under a trellis looking out over the ocean. This is a good metaphor for the project as a whole: looking out onto the world and seeing nice light through a clean structure. The cover image of Walk Seoul suggests another good metaphor: a pair of cupped hands presenting the viewer a single flower petal. Both possible metaphors fall down though. As there are too many photographs of the same nothing. The single petal, the stand out image, is lost among the crush. And the structure appears clean and clear but gives us too little narrative.

I’ll look forward to seeing where this zine goes. I suspect that good things are in store once it hits its stride.