_ Choonkeun Ha

In our consciousness of history exists buried shadows of truth.

History is universally regarded as what historians have interpreted and organized notable past events.  Although the evaluations and interpretations over particular historical events vary from historian to historian, the causal relations and detailed truths about them have never been lucidly explained.  Thus, chances are that we misunderstand a lot of historical events.

K. Jenkins mentions the plurality of history, “What we know as history may not be history…History is not history but histories.” 

 Although history is based on past actual events, there are interpretations and assessments different from truth.  There are also unexposed truths in what we recognize as history.  As such, there exist the shadows of truths in the history we know. My work began with the inquiry, whether the history we know is truth, and eventually it is about the truth of the ambiguity that exists as a shadow of what we know as history.
 It is the irrational acts triggering a series of various incidents that prevailed in human history.  The vicious historic cycle of destruction and reconstruction caused by war, terrorism, and violence that were committed by particular groups in the name of justice seriously damaged and threatened the dignity of countless people.  In such historical places, various traces and emblems remain as the evidence. 
 Raising the issue of the history’s shadow, ambiguity of historical truth, I condense several images of historical traces and emblems having been taken in historical sites and have them be contrasted with presently images so as to maximize the ambiguity of history.




Shadows of History


Jean-Louis Poitevin

TK-21 La Rerue의 주필 (www.tk-21.com)


Social Engagement

In at least two meaningful contextual respects, the photography work by Ha, Choon-keun can be characterized as that for social engagement. In general terms, ‘social engagement’ refers to an involvement in contemporary social issues. In the respect that he is conscious of his role as a contemporary photographer and uses his work as a means of actively reacting to diverse sensitive and thorny situations of reality, his work belongs to the category of social engagement. Another implication of social engagement can be found in that his work in its own way has deep insight into the status of the contemporary photographic art. In some respect, the artist, Ha, Choon-keun, photographs simple images that most people can capture, too.  Sometimes, his photos deal with somewhat familiar places and scenes that anyone can recall and go easily. His images made through overlapping and montaging often yield such nuance of lucid but ambiguous, emotive but meaningful, and indefinite but firm. What’s notable about his work is that the completion process of two facets of social engagement underlying his work is similar to that of a work, which gets richer once several photos have been overlapped to make a final piece. These two aspects of social engagement have the same intention. In consequence, his photographs acquire unique force, take off plainness and proceed to function as successful tool for social engagement.

Preparation and Series

 Ha, Choon-keun works very meticulously. He makes scrupulous preparations. He doesn’t treat anything carelessly from a Korean map to other things related to an area he is going to photograph. While doing the pre-work, the envisioned final piece is sketched on his work note. In this respect, he works like a painter, who makes sketches before making a final work on a canvas. The sketches on his work note reveal that he tries diverse approaches in dealing with a chosen theme. The theme consists of subject matters or in other fine art terms, motifs. His three approaches include dealing with similar motifs, using diverse viewpoints taken from different spots of the same place, or using motifs’ interactive aspects. For each work, he usually uses 8 photographs of diverse images, and they are either overlapped or put together. In case of the first approach, similar motifs, a bridge and a door, for instance, were taken from similar distances and then overlapped. The second approach is to photograph one subject matter by changing camera angles from which 8 sequential images come out. In case of the third approach, a final image is constructed based on similar motifs. He has been working on serial projects.  The artist has been drawn to diverse themes, ranging from the Dokdo Island, the DMZ, and Hiroshima to a rural village looked down from its surrounding mountain, images captured during the journey by a bus or in a car, or deserted houses and buildings in an unknown town. Some themes have a strong rapport with historical and political meanings, while others don’t have such meanings. These works that deal with ordinary motifs present a different issue and have no political implication. These series are related with our perception. They deal with how our perception work, how it’s indecisive, vague, and indefinite, and how we interpret our perceptive experience. ‘Habits’ make us have a belief in what we have known and understood. However, in actuality, perception is complex and works delicately, and thus, greater uncertainty is involved in the perception than what we think we have perceived.

Various Aspects of Our Perception

Ha, Choon-keun’s work makes us conscious of how our perception operates in our body and brain. There are several phases in perception. The first phase is to see something in a fleeting moment. At that moment, it seems certain that everything is recognized. Our belief in what we saw clashes with fleeting things, vague memories, and things that cannot be directly sensible that goes beyond our perception. However, time cannot be stopped, and we can’t keep holding onto such details. The second is the much longer perception than the first one. We usually see and remember well the events that take a certain lapse of time. Images taken at this phase reveal forgotten details, vague and transient things, and missed things at that moment of seeing. And this phase is applicable to the case when we reconstruct our perception after a short trip to a certain place. The third is the most general phase that makes us attempt to get out of the darkness of our memory that happened long time ago. In this case, it makes it hard for us to sort what is true and definite or what is false.  What’s recalled from our memory can be easily regarded as something nice.  However, to be frank with oneself, one will suddenly realize such memory is not so. We can be completely confused by so many elements in our incomplete memories as they can mess up what we have thought true and definite.  The artist’s works made through overlapped images is a creative series that specific place, theme, or life’s moments are reconstructed. Each photograph contains serious, deep insight into the veracity of perceptional experience and the mechanism of subconscious perception.

Angles and Movement

  The artist takes a great care in placement of imagery in a work. As revealed his pre-work sketches, his final work comes out after preparing carefully and weighing wisely. The central imagery in a work is the most important because it works as a point balancing the beginning and the completion of a work. The central imageries such as rails, bridge beams, mountain peaks, or temples, become the axis in a work. Sometimes, the elements such as rocks or the void space between doors enhance or become the basis of the entire composition. And they are important elements as they add delicate liveliness and balance to the entire piece that is more or less confusing, vague, and uncertain due to overlapping. His works also are educational.  It’s not because of themes but because they make us move our eyes to look for something in them. While looking at his work carefully, we suddenly realize something.  To perceive doesn’t always mean that we must focus. It is also an act of relating with a work’s flat surface, which includes the linear movement of time, the spatial movement of moving eyes and brows, and even the movement of memory. His work makes us zero in not fleeting moments but the lasting time appearing to be different due to vibrating light and space. Phenomena work in a perceptual horizon. Photographs reveal the horizon of mind, operating within the boundary of perception and mind. The artist asks us to find something not in an already established, safe structure but in a newly formed space with layered perception and multiple viewpoints.

Noise through morphed images

By Park,Young-taik (Art Critic & Professor, Gyeonggi University)



In general, the significance of photography is placed on its truthful representation as evidential sources and mimesis of the objective actual.  Unlike painting and sculpture, photography must rely on a machine, without which making images is impossible.  However, that doesn’t mean that the medium cannot be used for attempting diverse ways to make variations.  After all, the history of contemporary photography shows that the medium has become conceptual art investigating what photography is, through which conventional grammatical system has been consistently challenged.  That is the trace of having inquired about photography’s representation and at the same time, consistently its mechanical attributes having been expanded beyond the grammar rules.
In my personal opinion, these four photographers have in common as they somewhat consciously or intentionally generate ‘noise’ to traditional and usual photographic language and technique. I think that they make a chasm in their own way by either rearranging or slightly twisting photographic wording and grammar. The chasm is what they think as their perception and logic about photography or the trace of utilizing the medium as the unique device.  Although particular subjects seem to be photographed, (which varies with photographers), they are so indiscernible, blurred or shaken that they either slip from visibility or appear vague.
Choon-keun Ha, through the process of re-manipulating or condensing and disassembling, push firmly visible images out of photographs. Transformed images caused by excessive information photos put together and photographs taken in different time overlapped diverge from the conventionality of photography’s reference to particular subjects. His works “history and humanism”, are the expression of each photographers’ perception about them. For them, photography is for delivering concepts and the means of inquiring about it. The commonality in these four photographers’ works is that they try expanding the photography’s boundary and yet, exploring the world that only the medium can make it possible. Simultaneously, they may want to look into what’s inside the visible, their abysses. Do they want not to gaze the visible aspect of an object and rather, its other aspect? And isn’t that where all visual images ultimately aim to reach?
 Choon-keun Ha uses photographs having been taken at important historical sites, and they are overlapped and condensed. In his work made of excessively overlapped photos taken at the same location at a different time, subjects are hardly recognizable but there remain only traces, lines and colors, and some flow.  That’s because of the photographer’s intention to show the ambiguity effectively about his inquiry into the truth behind the unknowable events.  It is the sites where war, violence, terrorism, and so on occurred in the 20th century that the photographer visited to record the time surrounding them.  They remind the past and at the same time, are the spaces of absence with such events having long gone.  The places where photographer has visited several times are Hiroshima and Nagasaki where nuclear bombs dropped respectively on Aug.6 and Aug. 8, 1945; the Joongsangan area, Jeju Island where 43 massacre occurred, lasting 6 years and killing one-tenth of the island’s residents from Apr. 3 in 1948 to Sept. 21 in 1954; the 248-km-long (155 miles) Korean DMZ decided based on the Provision of Article 1 of the Korean War Armistice Agreement, on Jul. 27, 1953; and the WTC spots in NYC where the 911 terrorism occurred in 2001.  These sites have been preserved as those of memory and lamentation.  As they have become ruins and the space of memory and lamentation, it is not possible to confirm the original wounds.  Thus, what the photographer seeks is not particular subjects and images but the things that once existed but are now no longer there and at the same time, it is about the truth of such tragic events and inquiring into the real motives of resulting in such violence and death, ideology and death of humans.