Boomoon is another photographer who’s work I saw at KIAF. His current work focuses on large scale nature scenes, particularly snowy landscapes/seascapes and forest scenes. He is probably one of the better known Korean photographers abroad–he has several books published by Nazraeli Press. However, looking at his work I was particularly interested in his early photographs from the 1970s and 1980s. While his more recent work is very polished and sophisticated, his early black and white pictures are full of energy. There is something about them that feels precarious, like we are at the brink of something sublime happening. This post is a bit picture heavy, but I’m hoping to illustrate the transition in his style.
Kwon Boomoon was born in Daegu in 1955 and studied at Chung-Ang University in Seoul, in one of the first photography programs in the country. His first solo show, Photo Poems was held in Seoul in 1975. This work had a polarizing reception, with strong criticisms being leveled against him. This group of images is a passionate record of Korea as it was going through a rapid transformation from a largely agrarian country to the technological and industrial juggernaut we know today. Many of these changes were happening in the limits of the urban and rural zones. As the country industrialized it also urbanized and cities changed rapidly. In fact the tension between modernization and preservation was an important underlying current throughout much of Boomoon’s early work.
His next big project was influenced by anthropologist Levi-Strauss. Boomoon set out to document the village of Hahoe in Andong province. For the next five years he visited Hahoe several times leaving a record of a place that was not yet touched by the modernization much of the rest of the country was experiencing. Boomoon was particularly interested in depicting the relation between nature and the constructed space and the vernacular architecture of the village.
Finally, the next group of images, labeled On the Road I, were shot in Korea’s cities and countryside in the late 70s and early 80s. In this particular work Boomoon’s style is coalescing into a more formal and meditative approach to the scenes he photographs. He continues to focus on the liminal spaces between the urbanized and rural, and in some cases these spaces are in the process of becoming urban. The compositions of these pictures becomes less encumbered while at the same time more sophisticated, marking the transition towards his later landscape work.
It is interesting to see the work of a Korean photographer that is happening parallel to some of the major developments in the history of the medium happening in the United States. In the same year as Boomoon’s first show, the watershed exhibit at George Eastman House, New Topographics opened. This exhibit marked a shift in landscape photography focusing on the constructed space and the way humans were impacting the landscape. This was an intersection in the work of Boomoon who moved further out and away from the urban space seeking the untouched nature a la Ansel Adams.