*This exhibition is supported by South Korea’s Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, the Korean Arts Management Service, and the Fund for Korean Art Abroad. The Jinsha Site Museum in Chengdu has also provided licensing support.
Capturing the Invisible
Is Why I Love Taking Photographs:
Koo Bohnchang’s Photography
Born in 1953, the South Korean photographer Koo Bohnchang did not study photography initially. After he received his degree in business administration from Yonsei University, he worked in a large company, but he decided to resign after just six months. In 1980, he went to study photography in Hamburg, a city in pre-unification West Germany. As a member of one of the first generations of Koreans to study photography abroad, Koo received rigorous training at the Fachhochschule Hamburg Fachbereich Gestaltung. Since he finished his studies and returned to South Korea, he has been active on the front lines of Korean photography, both making art and teaching. He has also frequently appeared at contemporary photography events around the world, making an invaluable contribution to the international reputation of Korean contemporary photography.
Koo Bohnchang’s photographs are underpinned by the sensibility and aesthetics of Korean culture, and he works to pursue a Korean cultural identity. He actively uses photography as a method for visualizing cultural identity, and his body of work has had an immense international influence. When he returned to South Korea in 1985, Korean contemporary photography was dominated by the documentary and salon genres; the medium was seldom used for artistic expression. With consistent effort, he was able to use unique concepts and methods to create space for his own work, establish a firm position for himself, and foster an environment for photography as artistic expression in South Korea. Koo is now an internationally influential artist representing Korean contemporary photography, and he has continued to play an important role in the development of that scene.
Like many who have received formal photography training, Koo Bohnchang began with street photography. With a disciplined eye, he explored the characteristics of photography as a medium. He has a keen formal sensibility. By capturing reality thoughtfully, he developed his own rigorous sense of form and tried to uncover the beauty of ordinary surprises in common occurrences.
The pictures from Portraits of Time that are exhibited here have their own pictorial beauty. The works can also present an intertwined interrelationship by being carefully arranged in different contexts, such as a book or an exhibition. In this way, he offers his philosophical ideas about life and death, the eternal and the fleeting. In contrast, Breath, inspired by his father’s death, uses rich visual metaphors to present Koo’s thoughts about life and death.
Koo Bohnchang has a special interest in objects. The various objects that enter his gaze are related to his personal memories and to the collective memory of the Korean people. Some even meet both of his needs for cultural memory and identity. His Vessel series may be the most well-known of his object photographs; the series is widely considered some of his most important work, as such, it has won him international acclaim. The Gold series exhibited here runs contrary to the simplicity of Vessel, highlighting the brilliance of these objects with dramatic lighting and showing the glory of Korean culture. Both series are essentially the visual presentation and affirmation of cultural identity. Mask is another familiar series. The masks worn in folk ceremonies have an indescribable mystery. They abstract and generalize human attributes, but they also reflect a people’s conception of life and death. Because of the cover they provide, masks block off the outside world, but the wearers are made more attractive by that concealment.
Koo Bohnchang once said, “Capturing the invisible is why I love taking photographs.” Vessel and Mask are long-standing explorations that convey the richness of the culture that sits behind those porcelain surfaces and masks.
About Koo Bohnchang
Koo Bohnchang attended Yonsei University majoring in Business Administration and later studied photography in Hamburg, Germany. He was a professor at Kyungil University and a visiting professor in London Saint Martin School.
Koo's work has always dealt with the passage of time. He captures still and fragile moments, attempting to reveal the unseen breath of life. Since 2004, Koo has photographed traditional Korean white porcelain ceramics, in his Vessel series which highlights the simplistic beauty of Korea’s cultural heritage. To create the Vessel series, Koo photographed plain white porcelains in the collections of museums in Korea and abroad. For him, these wares echo the essence of the Joseon aesthetic, and because they are often stained, cracked, and worn by everyday use-they are a perfect subject through which to convey warm traces of human life.
His works have been exhibited in over 40 solo exhibitions including Samsung Rodin Gallery, Seoul (2001), Peabody Essex Museum, Massachusetts (2002), Camera Obscura, Paris (2004), Kukje Gallery, Seoul and Kahitsukan Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art (2006), Goeun Museum of Photography, Busan (2007), Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia (2010) and many.
His collections are at San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Museum of Fine art, Houston, Kahitsukan Kyoto Museum of Contemporary Art, National Museum of Contemporary Art, Korea, Leeum, Samsung Museum of Art, Seoul and publications are Deep Breath in Silence, Revealed Personas, Vessels for the Heart, How to Capture the Touching Moment in Korea and Hysteric Nine, Vessel, Everyday Treasures in Japan.