Category Archives: corners


This review is being written to the clack of steel on steel as I ride Amtrak from Charlottesville, VA to New York City. My origin and destination stations today are practical rather than civic architecture. Train stations that proclaim civic greatness and interconnectedness such as Washington, DC’s Union Station or New York City’s former Pennsylvania Station (demolished in 1963) are from a past era. Today scant political weight is given to the civic value of this country’s physical plant. And yet, public buildings have not ceased to carry enormous cultural freight and communicate copious civic meaning.

Jumping geographic and cultural tracks: Though no longer functioning as a train station, as civic architecture the Old Seoul Station remains a politically and culturally potent structure. Designed by Tsukamoto Yasushi and finished in 1925, the station stood as both a product and a symbol of the Japanese occupation. While some civic buildings from this period were demolished, in 1947 the station was very practically renamed and continued to function as Seoul’s main rail hub until 2004 when Korail’s new Seoul Station* was completed. In 2011 the old station reopened as Culture Seoul Station 284, a cultural center with space for performances, exhibits and events. The name alludes to the station’s position as an intersection of historical, spatial, cultural and civic symbolism.

Corners (interview, review 1, 2), has undertaken a “Railway Library” of three books. The first book in this series is 경성역 (Gyeongseong Station). It is focused on a nuts and bolts representation of the Old Seoul Station. It begins with an essay, describing the physical building and the history of its construction and use, followed by a barebones timeline of the station from the construction of the first station building in 1900 through the renaming of the 1925 building in 1947. The blurb on Corner’s website describes using the railroad as a filter for critical cultural and historical examination.

The meat of the book is archival photographs of the station that detail the ostentatious grandeur and Western influence of its multitudinous architectural styles. The building is clearly a statement. Like any colonial architecture, the function of the building was as much cultural and political as practical. The same can be said of the photographs. It is telling that only a single train appears in any of the photographs and then only incidentally; nor are there any photographs of any of the functional aspects of the building: switches, signals, or other mechanical infrastructure. There are only two photographs showing the tracks of the station; these are, like the single train, incidental to the architectural view behind them. The importance of the building was not in its function as transportation infrastructure but in its function as a cultural and political symbol.

We are shown the station as a particular set of physical facts; we are not shown the base function of the building or the complex web of human interaction that sustains it. It is a grand, modern and industrial physical fact. We do not see any planning sessions nor a groundbreaking ceremony. We do not see workers constructing the building nor installing the interior decoration. We do not see people manning (nor patronizing) the barber’s chair. We do not see people sitting down to dinner in the restaurant nor anyone in the kitchen preparing meals. With exception of the first and last photographs in the book we see no people; in these we are shown two crowds. In the first we see a crowd facing away seated inside the main dining room during the dedication or opening ceremony. In the second we see the hoi polloi stretching to Namdaemun and facing us; the caption ambiguously describes “citizens” filling the street outside the station without describing the purpose or occasion of their doing so. The cultural implications of this representation were certainly as intentional as the architecture itself.

Photographs are not simple carriers of absolute fact. Photographers make a host of decisions about what to record and how to do so. These photographs are not the simple documents that they purport to be. They are as much a depiction of the colonial system of which they are a functional aspect as the station they show. The decisions of what is shown and how it is shown are made by editors and designers as well. The designer, Jo Hyo Joon, made a conscious decision to use these particular photographs and to present them in the way that he has. It is an interesting decision to choose to situate a process of reconciliation or reclamation on such contested ground. It is as though Jo is letting us know that every square inch of the conversation will be contested ground.

Corner’s continued use of the Risograph printing process is another interesting choice. Taken in the first half of the twentieth century, the photographs in this book appear to have been shot and printed with a variety of techniques. The clipped corners suggest dry plate negatives (dry plate materials were certainly used by the Japanese authorities at this time). The odd shapes of some images suggest albumen prints, and silver gelatin materials were almost certainly used for the later photographs. These photographic processes create richly beautiful objects. The Risograph printing eliminates the differences between these techniques’ visual styles. They become artifacts; their creation as functional government documents is emphasized.

경성역 is not so much a book of photography as a book of political and cultural critique that uses photography to make its argument. It is clear that these photographs are telling us something about the world but it is up to the reader to examine these facts critically in order to come to terms with the Old Seoul Station and its past, present and future meaning in the fabric of Korean culture and history. The stage is set for additional books in the Railway Library.

디자인 : 조효준
년도 : 2014
출판사 : 코우너스
크기 : 12 x 18.8 cm
인쇄 : 리소그라프
제본 : 실 가격

*The new Seoul Station represents a contemporary example of exactly the kind of civic-minded architecture discussed above.

A conversation with Corners

This past March, while Ji and I were in Seoul visiting family, I had the opportunity to sit down with Hyojoon, Daiwoong and Eunhye of Corners and talk about how book making fit into their design practice and why they were making books. They were incredibly generous with their time, and very patient with me as I felt my way through this first in a series of interviews. A big thank you to Jimin Han, a very talented artist I met through Sook Jin Jo, who acted as my translator during the interview and generally kept the interview moving along. Thank you also to Yoonsun Jung for her work transcribing and translating the audio.

Daiwoong Kim, Eunhye Kim and Hyojoon Jo of Corners.
l-r: Daiwoong Kim, Eunhye Kim and Hyojoon Jo of Corners.

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2011, 5, 24, Tuesday; Jo Hyo Joon


This book clearly illustrates the precipice along which this blog walks: sitting at the intersection of photographs and text, and as the text is only in Korean, it is beyond my full understanding. This is a flaw of this blog that I am all too aware of. Over-arching ideas, the photographs and physical books I understand. Korean Text and the nuance it might bring often eludes me. I note this because this is a book that I quite enjoy even with my understanding hobbled by my inability to fully appreciate the text. I don’t see this as a fatal flow but certainly one of which I am aware.

2011, 5, 24, Tuesday mines multiple perspectives of a single day. Each of the subjects in the book was in the same place, at the same time and doing the same task. The book is comprised of their individual accounts describing what happened that day; each account is accompanied by a portrait. Though I cannot read the text and despite the fact that the tasks were done for the military, the events described appear to be banal. It is (I assume) the small differences between their accounts that are meaningful.



Each text is accompanied by a portrait of the man who wrote it. The portraits are all snapshots: loose, familiar, affectionate but without affectation. I assume the photographs were made by Jo who designed the book and that they were shot with a point and shoot with a built in flash. They would be better considered alongside Nikki S. Lee’s “snapshots” rather than Terry Richardson’s. When a journal entry runs longer than a page, a photograph of the location sits across from the additional page of text. The opening and closing photographs are all of the location.

Published by Corners, it is no surprise that the printing is rough risograph. The photographs are all in a limited blue tonality. The clipped tones nonetheless convey much and suggest more. The next to last photograph in the book, one of the few that isn’t a portrait, is a broad sky above distant layered hills with a flash-lit fence in the foreground. The regularity of the fence–harshly lit by the flash, sets off the subtlety of the rows of hills and the glow of low clouds below a clear sky above. Where the blue ink blocks up in the dark tones of the hills there is wonderful play between the ink and the paper’s fibers. One can almost see trees, branches and pine needles.

As might be gleaned from the types of books that I have written about (and purchased before doing so) I like small books that delve into small ideas and I like quirky presses that make the most of their limits. Corners is just such a press, and this is just such a book.

2011, 24, 5, Tuesday
Jo Hyo Joon
2012, 3, 1

London & Berlin; Eunhye Kim

Day two of jury duty and I’m still sitting and waiting. Action is promised soon: I’ll either be on a jury or dismissed… So, another review ahead of schedule.

Today I brought two small books by Eunhye Kim to pass the time. These slim volumes are the kind of quick and to the point books that I love. I attended a workshop on the photobook several years back (TA’d actually) run by Ken Schles and Jeffrey Ladd. Each participant was asked to bring a couple of books that they liked. I brought a handmade book of abstractions by a Japanese photographer and Paul Kooiker slim Seminar. Both present small “i” ideas and do so without fanfare or ostentation.

Both Berlin and London are like that: simple, direct and easy. We have straightforward urban landscapes of two cities printed in rough risograph on cheap paper and saddle stitched with two staples.

Each book is comprised of street photographs made in the titular city. They tend towards the middle distance. They have the air of casual snapshots but suffused with formal compositions. The photographs are quiet; there are no spectacles, no confrontations, no human drama. Winogrand this is not.

In Berlin, the photographs on the front and back covers are the strongest, presenting a promise that the rest of the photographs cannot live up to. Some aspire but none match.

London is much the same, though there are a number of gems within the book: a group of young men playing football in a park; two flower pots on two windowsills; a pair of images following an old woman as she approaches and unlocks her door; a middle aged couple pausing in the middle of a walk with their dogs in the park; a family walking through a park in matching outfits.

These are not masterpieces, but they make no claim to be. At the moment, they are welcome diversions.

Eunhye Kim
Published by small thing
Printed by CORNERS
Eunhye Kim
Published by Small thing
Printed by CORNERS