Shadows of History

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.




The camera angle in overlapped images of a ball park, basketball court, a volleyball court does more than its given role and makes figures appear.  In his landscape and cityscape, we can often find men or women.  However, in overlapped images of sports, figures seem play more important roles.  As eight different photographs with diverse focuses and depths of field are overlapped, all figures in a work look like ghosts.  The men and the women are actual people whom we can ordinarily experience.  They live in cities and every corners of the earth, participating in the adventure of life.  This is what makes us look at the artist’s work.  His work has us face with every one’s reality given by this world.  And in the trembling effect of each work, we can find how all these seem special like a magic and simultaneously, how transient they are.  Perceived as shadows, we are nothing but disappearing bodies.  His images of landscape, cityscape, and stadium have in common.  Regardless of presented themes and subject matters, they reveal that the world and humans were born, are living, and will vanish together.  Such birth and extinction, due to the risk of losing all, get much more magnified.  Our reality is sincerely contained in Ha, Choon-keun’s photography works.  His work has the mystery and is derived from enormous shaking, which might have happened when mountains were upheaved in immemorial times.  His photography shows his insight into birth and extinction.  Now, we are living in the world where not memories or recognitions but shadows testify the eternity of existence.

Jean-Louis Poitevin

Doctor of Philosophy.  Novelist.  Art Critic.  Member of AICA international.  Chief Editor, TK-21 La Rerue (