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Elegy; Jo Sook Jin

In the interest of full disclosure, I ought to state right up front that Sook Jin is a friend. As she was making the photographs that became Elegy she asked me for technical advice. She gave me a copy of her book.

On to the review, then.

If only I could have many deaths. I would like to try my options. I would like to work up to my everlasting death; for it to be the best death. (How grossly bourgeois.) It would be like trying on a suit; does it fit? Perhaps another style would suit me better. I would like to ease into finality, into forever, into nothingness–absolute, as if I were inching one toe then the next into the ocean. We get no such courtesy. The reaper shoves us headlong into the deep blue black and we are gone. This would seem to me to be a cause for fear. And, I am afraid. It is a distant fear. I am yet young, though youth doesn’t guarantee death’s distance.

The light that falls across Jo Sook Jin’s photographs is austere, hard-edged and sharp. The sun is high. It falls across dilapidated grave markers and rakes the dirt with shadow–like a macabre sun dial. The grave markers hang this way and that. Wooden crosses are split and bleached; stones are broken; concrete crumbles. Plants grow thinly across the golden dirt. Tufts of grass anchor themselves in stone crevices. In the glare of the sun the grave markers are slowly being erased.

Jo Sook Jin does not seem afraid so much as contemplative in photographing these crumbling grave markers in the cemetery on Itaparica off the coast of Brazil. Here Jo spent several residencies making the sculptural installations for which she is known as well as photographing in the graveyard. Her approach with the camera is an extension of her artistic process. Elegy is as composed of found objects as any of her physical sculptures are. Her process of discovering and collection remains intact. The sequencing of the book is much like the stacking and interlocking through which she constructs her sculptures.

In her statement at the end of the book, Jo writes that she was drawn to the “somber beauty” of the disappearing wooden grave markers. In them and the dirt she feels peoples’ presences: “…not only those who were buried but also those who had buried them. They might be in a different time and space than me but it was as if I knew them. And so I traveled in a different time.”

As a reader, I’m not sure I feel like I’m traveling to a different time, but I’m certainly put into an appropriately contemplative mood. At the beginning of her statement Jo notes a line she found in a cathedral in Salvador, Brazil: “It is a true philosophy to meditate on death” which she mirrors at the end of the statement by quoting an old saying: “We come from the earth and go back to the earth.” The photographs contain both the marker and the abode of death.

Rather than a lament to the dead, Elegy becomes a catalyst of philosophic introspection. In feeling the presence of those who have passed and those who have mourned, Jo connects us to the inevitable flow of humanity. Elegy invites us to meditate on those who are lost to us and that we too will eventually pass on.

Sook Jin Jo
Essay: Richard Vine
Noonbit Publishing Co.

Late Post; New Interview and New Content Page Coming

My social life beckoned this past weekend, and this week’s post was postponed. The review that was intended for this past Sunday will be up later this week.

Also, last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Jaeyu Lee for a conversation following up on my review of his Fragments in Scene. It was a wide ranging interview; he is fascinating and a lively conversationalist. I am in the midst of transcribing the interview (in between the commercial jobs that pay my rent…); it should be up in the next week or two.

As a follow up to a reader question, I will be updating a post from my daily_up blog and publishing it here as a top level page. This will be a listing of bookstores in Korea. At the moment it will be Seoul-centric as I’ve not found any bookstores outside of Seoul, though I know second hand of several in Busan and elsewhere.

So, there is new stuff coming soon. Once it’s all up this post will come down.

Bae Bien-U 2002 Artsonje Exhibit Catalog

The best kimchi I have ever eaten was in Yeosu nearly a decade ago. Dolsan Gat-Kimchi is made with mustard leaves and is amazing–or at least the batch I had at a local Yeosu seafood (obviously) restaurant was sublime. What does this have to do with photography? Nothing. It’s just a lead in for the fact that Yeosu is Bae Bien-U’s hometown.

Bae has been discussed previously on this blog. And, he will be discussed again, eventually, as I have a third book of his work on my shelf awaiting a review and he is one of the most iconic figure in Korean photography.

The subject of this review is a small perfect bound exhibition catalog published in conjunction with an exhibit at the Art Sonje Center in 2002. It’s focus is not on Bae’s pine trees but rather is on four other series of photographs: Seascapes, Mountainscapes, Skyscapes and Rockscapes. These are series that I am less familiar with–and probably for good reason. This isn’t a masterful book, but an interesting one nonetheless. Continue reading

On The Line, ed. Shin Suejin

Here in American it is Memorial Day Weekend. It is the official start of the summer driving season. BBQ grills are on overdrive, and nearly everyone is gathered around one. In Brooklyn the cyclists are out in droves, and the mood is festive. The skies are blue. And, oh by the way, the weekend is meant to provide an opportunity to memorialize those who have given everything to preserve this country in the many (military) struggles it has been engaged in and to reflect upon their sacrifice.

To extend this memorializing and reflection to another country and another culture is dangerous. To even broach the raw emotions of contemporary politics is more dangerous still (and rude). Well, so be it.
Continue reading

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.
Continue reading

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

Commentary: Context, Approach and Bias

A.D. Coleman’s observations on photography are always acutely astute. His blog, Photocritic International, is a must read.

In a recent post, Across the Great Divide (1), he recounts a misreading by Penny Coisneau-Levine of a review he wrote in 1974 about a Canadian photographer’s book. She uses the misreading to set him up as a straw man in order to criticize a “monolithic approach” in which “universal” terms serve to hide work that does not conform to this mode of criticism.

“The problem is, of course, that this monolithic approach almost guarantees that enormous chunks of the work under consideration will slip through the critical cracks, that whatever exists in the work that cannot be mediated through the ‘universal’ terms of discourse the critic employs risks being missed altogether. And if not much in the work does lend itself to being discussed in these critical terms, the work may be barely seen at all, with the conclusion that nothing exists in the work to be seen.”

Leaving aside the poor choice of straw man, Coisneau-Levine’s point is a valid one, and one that I am aware of here on Korean Photography Books. The locus of this blog is books from a culture that is not my own. I am not Korean, do not have any formal schooling on Korean history or culture and do not speak the language. The risk is ripe for falling back onto generalized universal terms that demean, distort or diminish the work under review.

My goal in writing these reviews is the opposite: to make the work in these books accessible to a Western audience while doing what little I can to promote the photographers behind the work. Two key role models for my approach to writing this blog have been Coleman and John Berger. In the introduction to Berger’s Understanding a Photograph, Geoff Dyer quotes D.H. Lawrence’s poem “Thought” to describes Berger’s approach: “Thought is a man in his wholeness wholly attending.”

Their similar approaches of closely attending to the work under review seems to me a valid means of minimizing the risk of losing chunks or not truly seeing the work. Furthermore, there are rich veins of potential meaning where cultures come together. What is ordinary and obvious within a given context becomes strange and obscured when it runs up against a foreign work of art. A particular meaning might be lost, but new meanings are created. When any work of art is finished by the artist and comes in front of a viewer the viewer brings a new set of experiences and assumptions to the work and finds his own meaning within it.

While there is the risk in cross cultural criticism of applying a universal standard to all works regardless of cultural context, one must have a standard of some sort. I can only apply a personal standard through closely attending to the work itself, my reaction to it and the cross cultural connections these suggest.

Like a Program; Kim Sang-Gil

Good photography. Dark, rough printing. Off white paper. Small design flourishes. Wonderful object-ness.

Given my predilections I ought to like this book. I don’t.

My impression is that more and more photo books being made in Korea lately are exquisite objects that mirror and enhance the photography contained within. (Next week’s review will be of one of these.) In the past, I found that many photo books in Korea were simply exhibition catalogs (often beautifully made but still catalogs). Like a Program on a cursory examination appears to be a wonderful object, and it is, but this object-ness is out of whack to the photography within and overwhelmed by the all you can eat buffet of an exhibition catalog that it truly is.

It may be unfair to judge an exhibition catalog for failing as a photo book. Oh well.

Kim Sang-Gil’s photographs limn a porous boundary between artifice and sincerity. Like a Program contains three of Kim’s projects that approach this boundary from different directions and a fourth that is about something (else). The moments in “Motion Picture” appear to be caught from life, but their captions reveal them to be staged. The subjects are models and actors between or in the midst of takes. “Off-line” depicts communities that have come together around shared interests. These interests can be as simple or shallow as brand affiliation and yet the group identity or sense of community is no less sincere than in any other group or community. “Re-model” is photographs of empty commercial interior spaces either waiting to be used or in the process of being made ready for use but that lack the qualities that actually being used will embue them with. An empty space might be intended as an office, but until it is used it is little different than an unused mall interior. The final series in the book is “Display.” This is comprised of details of building design features: a handicap lift rail; an elevator door; a revolving door; a parking elevator system. I do not know how these four photographs relate to the previous three series.

The work in the book, while having a loosely unifying theme, is too broad. Moving from one project to the next is jarring.

The choice to print all of the work in the book in low contrast black and white is odd given that Kim Sang-Gil works in color. The printing is actually quite beautiful in its way, but it is wrong for almost all of the work.

“Off-line_burberry internet community” offers the opportunity for a direct comparison between Like a Program’s grayscale printing and a color presentation. The image appears in glorious glossy color on the cover (and in the interior) of the 2009 exhibition catalog Chaotic Harmony (Museum of Fine Arts Houston and the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, 2009).The flat gray tones in Like a Program dull the image, make it boring.

The images from “Motion Picture” are similarly dulled to death by the monotone printing. These images have subtle color and a cinematic presence–which makes sense given how they were made. Looking at these photographs I am reminded of Philip-Lorca Dicorcia’s Hustlers with their seemingly natural light that bathes everything in the frame with a kind of heightened sense of being real. This heightened sense of the real is at the heart of what “Motion Picture” is about. It is a physical trace of Kim’s capital “I” Idea. Why strip that from the photographs?

This is not a knock on the photography or the photographer (though the buck has to stop somewhere). Motion Picture_inquiry and Motion Picture_the message and Motion Picture_hand clapping are all weirdly wonderful. Off-line_burberry internet community, Off-line b&w sneakers internet community and Off-line_the sound of music internet community are likewise beautifully bizarre. I imagine that large prints from Re-Model would have an amazing presence on the wall. This is good work.

This is a knock on the book: There was obvious care made in the design and printing and yet somehow the design choices are mismatched to the content. The design and printing are good (in and of themselves at least); the photography is good; the combination is not good.

If one has nothing nice to say, we are often told, say nothing at all. Ah… Well. I don’t think my writing this criticism of a book published eight years ago will put any kind of dent in Kim’s reputation. I’m just some dude and he’s an internationally known artist. I have no ax to grind here; I like Kim’s photographs and bought the book because I wanted to like it. It is disappointing that Like a Program occupies the no man’s land that it does: it has lovely object qualities and yet is primarily an exhibition catalog.

Like a Program
Kim Sang-Gil
Project Space Sarubia, Seoul

SSE Project and SSE Zine; Young Pil Yoo

A package arrived from Korea yesterday. New SSE Zines! And stickers and postcards to boot.

SSE Project is an online gallery; each exhibit is also printed as SSE Zine. Given that SSE-P and SSE Zine are a single project in their own right I’m writing this review of the whole venture. While I certainly might have my favorite issues, it is the overarching consistency of SSE-P that I am enamored of. This review, then, is of Young Pil Yoo’s efforts to “offer a wide perspective to the public and help communication between artist and audience.”

In the New York Times a couple of days ago, Holland Cotter had a piece describing “a collection of complaints and a few (very few) ideas for change” that he has regarding the arts in New York City. In his view, big money (the art industry) has again come to the fore in the art world (though one could certainly argue that it is always at the fore) and is distorting the art world in terms of “what kind of art is made, and how art is presented in the media and in museums.” He closes his article with this:

But when the rents get too high, or the economy fails, or art buying falls out of fashion, and the art industry decides to liquidate its overvalued assets and leave? Artists, the first and last stakeholders, will have themselves to fall back on. They’ll learn to organize and agitate for what they need, to let City Hall know, in no uncertain terms, that they’re there. They’ll learn to share, not just on special occasions, but all the time. They’ll learn that art and politics are inseparable, and both can be anything and everything. They’ll learn to bring art back from the brink of inconsequence.

As someone long on questions and short on answers, let me ask: Why not start now?

YP (as Young Pil presents himself in SSE-P and his social media channels) started SSE Project six years ago. He understood Cotter’s concerns (though without the New York City specifics) in 2008 and has created a platform through which young artists can share their work. SSE-P strikes a fine balance between the new world flattening of distribution opportunities presented by the web and old school print media that exists as objects in the real world. YP is putting artists into the world. He is helping them to share all of the time.

SSE-P is a distant less commercial cousin of Jen Bekman’s 20×200. While Bekman’s endeavor aims to make art accessible by way of affordability, YP is looking to make art simply accessible. The website presents each exhibit in full. Social media channels trumpet the exhibits in conjunction with real world launch parties. Artists are linked to directly from the SSE-P site. The only thing SSE-P sells is the zine (and SSE-P stickers and postcards…), and these are priced so cheaply that I suspect they simply cover the cost of printing the next zine. (In Seoul bookstores the zines are generally priced between $6 and $10; online ordering with international shipping is slightly pricier.)

Without a clear metric, it is hard to evaluate how successfully SSE-P is fulfilling its mission–and that isn’t my job, really. However, so as not to be one of those critics writing only to “broadcast names and contribute to fame,” I’ll make a go of it anyway.

“Wide perspective” seems like a good place to start. The latest issue is #48; I have 12 issues on hand. I’ve acquired issues dealing primarily with photography, though of those on hand two are painting and another illustration. The remaining 36, many of which I’ve seen in person and others which I’ve seen only online, are a mixture of painting, drawing, illustration and multimedia. The artists are mostly Korean, though a number of western artists have also worked with SSE-P. The aesthetic range of the presented work is, well, wide: black and white grit from Novo and Yourim Kim documenting tattoo culture; young women in the flush of life from Yina Kim; rough aggressive political paintings from VS; “simple and still” subtle color from Ye Rin Mok. Nam Ji Yeon’s paintings are fucking weird–I’m clearly missing something. Hasisi Park shows and conceals.Son Dong Joo photographs a love letter. SSE-P hits the wide mark.

It is harder to evaluate how well the projects is helping communication between audience and artists. YP has a following of nearly 800 on Twitter. The last opening drew nearly 100 yes RSVPs through Facebook and pictures show a well attended opening. Beyond that weak evidence, I can only guess based on anecdotal evidence: my experience is that the zines are everywhere, though often hard to find: many sell out quickly. My evaluation? Forget the numbers; it is the intent that is most important. YP is trying, and I would say (am saying) that trying is succeeding in this endeavor.

Once again, to no one’s surprise, I’m taken by a small publisher ( / online gallery). YP designs each (or at least most) of the zines himself. The zines are roughly 28 pages, well printed on matte paper, saddle stitched, either 5 3/4″ x 8 1/4″ or 5″ x 7 1/4″ and in an edition of either 500 or 1000. The design is understated, generally, so that the art is front and center. A couple include an accompanying poster.

Lest anyone think I’m gushing here, I’ll note that I skipped the two volumes of Boys on Film and Girls on Film. These publications didn’t do it for me. For completeness’ sake I ought to have simply purchased them through gritted teeth; but, they’re just empty photo calories, and I passed.

If you’re in Seoul, swing by The Book Society, Your Mind or the design shop on the ground floor of the Sangsang Madang building in Hongdae and check out a couple of the zines. Elsewhere in Korea, check in at your nearest hip art shop; you’ll probably find SSE Projects publications. If you’re not in Korea, check out the SSE-P site, follow Young Pil on Twitter (@yp_art) or have a couple of zines shipped to your door. SSE Projects is hot. I’m hooked. You will be too.

Fantasy Residency in North Korea: Please don’t take off the lids. The pots are empty.; Jooyoung Lee

Jooyoung Lee has not been to North Korea. “None of the photographs in this book were taken in North Korea.” The work contained within Fantasy Residency in North Korea, eight essays, conversations and other writings each followed by a series of photographs, was made by Lee in Berlin during a residency through PROGRAM. PROGRAM’s (now defunct) residency was aimed at testing the disciplinary boundaries of architecture through collaborations with other fields.

During her residency, Lee worked on her project “Let’s Walk and Chat Together,” which was “devised as an introduction to the city through the establishment of a more personal connection to the architecture and history by means of an exploration and excavation of the different historical and social layers” by means of collaborative walking tours. She invited anyone to walk with her in order to introduce her to their favorite and most emblematic places in Berlin. From these walks she conceived of the formerly divided Berlin as a stand in for the still divided Korean peninsula. From the photographs created during these walks, came the seeds for FRiNK.

Each chapter is a pairing of text and photographs. The photographs respond to and expand upon the ideas presented in the preceding section of text.

The first two chapters establish the analogy linking North Korea and the formerly divided Berlin and the political reality of the North/South division. In these sections, Lee “encounters” a North Korean man. The book then shifts to the emotional space of dislocation via Thomas Mader’s short story about a man lost in his hometown: the familiar made strange, neighbors made strangers. A conversation between Lee and Kyungchul Hyon takes us back to the Korean divide: Hyon is a North Korean studying at the Goethe Institute in Berlin. The two, one from the North and one from the South, walk together. During their walk they discuss the oddity of their even being in conversation, the emotions elicited by the site of the Berlin Wall and the political reality that surrounds and infuses their conversation. Chapter five is another conversation, this one between Lee and Friedmann Helms, who grew up in East Berlin until the age of 15 and later visited the DPRK to mark the 20th anniversary of German reunification. Helms describes the emotional experience of leaving East Germany and the strangeness of visiting North Korea–it is his description of seeing East German subway cars from his youth in the DPRK is poignant. This is followed by a free verse poetic interpretation by Lee of things Friedmann said. The next essay, written by Soohyun Kim, muses on what comprises a city. She argues for a broadly inclusive definition that allows for contemporary urban planning to accommodate the widely divergent social realities present in modern urban spaces. The final text is an artist’s statement wherein Lee explains the ideas that triggered FRiNK.

The series of photographs that follow each text are abstract. Though some refer directly to the texts, most are suggestive rather than descriptive: a woman looking at a fenced courtyard; a shower faucet, a stairwell window, a tightly cropped building facade; a handwritten note in Arabic on a notebook page, a boy playing soccer behind a gate, a bicycle leaning against a wall beneath the shadows of (cypress?) trees; two flash-lit men looking out into a darkness, coffee and kimchi, a woman photographing a man beside a pile of sandbags, an overpass support, a row of light bulbs,a beer, that boy playing soccer again, the exterior of a building (the same as that from the photograph in the first chapter). These are like memories drawn from a walk–details that have caught the eye. One building and its surrounds seems to draw the eye more frequently: the North Korean Embassy. Or, I presume it is the North Korean Embassy. Or maybe it is only the embassy imagined and projected from within the photographer (and by extension the viewer).

The design is straightforward with a Bauhaus vibe: functional, clear. The chapter title pages are stark: large white lettering on black pages. The texts are presented in Korean on the right hand page and in English on the left. The photographs run as though scrolling downwards on a webpage; when one hits the bottom of a printed page images are cut off and continued on the next page. As a photographer it is frustrating that the photographs are dark, their tones compressed and that many of the best are cut in two, but the photography is very much secondary here. It is an avenue by which Lee can get to where she is going.

I don’t have a clever closing for this review. The strong cover type and simple design initially drew me to the book. The form factor, the small format black and white photography and the political nature of the content are all right in the sweet spot of what interests me as a collector. And yet, I’ve never felt a strong affinity for the book. It’s held my interest but not elicited any strong emotional response. I suppose that is the review in condensed form: interesting ideas, very good design, no emotional connection.

Title: Fantasy Residency in North Korea: Please don’t take off the lids. The pots are empty.
Project, Text & Photography: Jooyoung Lee
Text Contributors: Soohyun Kim, Thomas Mader
Translations: Eunjoo Lee, Eunhee Park, Hoyun Son, Alysia Kim
Graphic Design: Ohyun Kwon

First Edition: November 2010
Supported by: Art Council of Korea & PROGRAM e.V.