22 September 2010

Contemporary Korean Photography: Bae Bien-U

Earlier this year, a new exhibition debuted at the Museum of Fine Art in Houston called Chaotic Harmony: Contemporary Korean Photography.  According to the Museum's website, the exhibition showcases "...photographs by 40 artists born between 1965 and 1984 and representing two distinct generations."  The exhibition also "...reveals the extraordinary work being created in South Korea, as well as a shifting sense of Korean identity as expressed by artists who witnessed the monumental cultural and social changes in their country over the past 45 years."

One of the 40 artists represented in the exhibition was Bae Bien-U.

Bae Bien-U lives and works in Seoul, South Korea.  Currently, he is a professor of photography at the Seoul Institute of the Arts.  He received his own education from the Hongik University in Seoul and the Bielefeld University in Germany.  He had held many solo exhibitions in Korea and in other countries before becoming a part of the Chaotic Harmony exhibition.

Extract about artist's intentions:
"...the artist’s intention is to champion the presence of nature in a world increasingly defined by technological change. To do so, he makes use of various artistic devices. Going out to take photographs on misty days, Bae Bien-U uses lengthy exposures to achieve the sensation of a longed-for eternity... 
For Bae, the forms and outlines of the pine tree offer an image of absolutely spirituality. While their strong, straight lines reflect the “solemnity and resolution of the Korean people”, the curving lines symbolise their “resistance in the face of a turbulent past”."
(Extract from Absolute Arts website)

Bae Bien-U's work is very smooth, unique and vivid.  Upon looking at his work, I believe that Bae Bien-U is trying to create images with soft imagery, high contrast and a modern simplicity. Although he uses an uncommon setup, Bae Bien-U's work has a good use of the 'rule of thirds' and has really good balance.

The meaning of his images are not obvious but this, I think, works in his favor.  On the artist's website, underneath his name, there is a quote which I believe thoroughly sums up Bae Bien-U's intentions; "A point of contact between the heavens and the earth".  Without looking at the artist intention's, I just thought Bae Bien-U was just another landscape photographer.  But, as seen in the quote from above about the artist's intentions, the purpose of his work was more complex than that.  He has been inspired by the people around him in Korea and this is probably who his work is intended for, as a celebration of their strength.  However, I think his work would also be intended for people outside of Korea, as a way of showing how far Korea has come.

Personally, I find Bae Bien-U's work very appealing; it is original and creative.  I think his work romaniticises the Korean landscape but I don't think that this is intentional.  I think that he has unconsciously made the Korean landscape appealing to the world while trying to express his own intentions.  Before reseaerching this artist, I did not know a lot about Korean culture or their landscape.  But now, thanks the Bae Bien-U's work and intentions, I know a bit more about what the Korean culture has been through within the last sixty or so years.   

Because of his panoramic setup and choice of subject matter, Bae Bien-U's work reminds me of the work of Australian nature photographer, Ken Duncan.  Duncan's work is colourful and it too romanticises the Australian landscape.  The two artists' basic ideas and concepts are both very similar but the way in which each executes these ideas is where the variation between the two can be seen.  However, in comparison to Bae Bien-U's work, Duncan's landscapes are more colourful, detailed and complex, in terms of subject matter.  Maybe this difference between a Korean photographer and a Western photographer can demonstrate a visual difference between the way Eastern and Western cultures observe and interpret different aspects of their varying cultures and the world. 

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