Monthly Archives: December 2013

London & Berlin; Eunhye Kim

Day two of jury duty and I’m still sitting and waiting. Action is promised soon: I’ll either be on a jury or dismissed… So, another review ahead of schedule.

Today I brought two small books by Eunhye Kim to pass the time. These slim volumes are the kind of quick and to the point books that I love. I attended a workshop on the photobook several years back (TA’d actually) run by Ken Schles and Jeffrey Ladd. Each participant was asked to bring a couple of books that they liked. I brought a handmade book of abstractions by a Japanese photographer and Paul Kooiker slim Seminar. Both present small “i” ideas and do so without fanfare or ostentation.

Both Berlin and London are like that: simple, direct and easy. We have straightforward urban landscapes of two cities printed in rough risograph on cheap paper and saddle stitched with two staples.

Each book is comprised of street photographs made in the titular city. They tend towards the middle distance. They have the air of casual snapshots but suffused with formal compositions. The photographs are quiet; there are no spectacles, no confrontations, no human drama. Winogrand this is not.

In Berlin, the photographs on the front and back covers are the strongest, presenting a promise that the rest of the photographs cannot live up to. Some aspire but none match.

London is much the same, though there are a number of gems within the book: a group of young men playing football in a park; two flower pots on two windowsills; a pair of images following an old woman as she approaches and unlocks her door; a middle aged couple pausing in the middle of a walk with their dogs in the park; a family walking through a park in matching outfits.

These are not masterpieces, but they make no claim to be. At the moment, they are welcome diversions.

Eunhye Kim
Published by small thing
Printed by CORNERS
Eunhye Kim
Published by Small thing
Printed by CORNERS

31 days 807.3km; Oh SeBeom

This book is an escape, and I need one. I am in Kings County Superior Court serving on Jury Duty. Thus far, I am doing little more than sitting and waiting. Having brought Oh SeBeom’s 31 Days 807.3km was a good decision as it provides welcome distraction.

31 days 807.3km is a small volume, roughly the size of a Moleskin notebook, chronicling a 31 day 801.3km trip across northern Spain. This book is one part of a larger project that includes web and video components as well. The project as a whole is one part again of Oh’s overarching one man project: World of DDanjit I cannot read any of the site’s text, but it seems to be a cataloging of the world, something to which I can relate.

31 days 807.3km is broken into roughly three equal sections. The first is a reproduction of Oh’s Moleskin journal pages written during the trip. It is from these journals that the book takes its size and shape, imitating a Moleskin notebook. This section has feeling. The handwriting has smudged and we can see text bleeding through from the backside of each page. As we read one experience we anticipate what is to come and reflect on what happened previously. This text is, obviously enough, in Korean with bits of copied text and web URLs in English. As I cannot read this text, I will say only that the reproduction of the notebook pages feels right; I feel like I’m being stealing into someone’s private thoughts (that were left laying about so I might buy them…). I assume that if I could read the text, this is what I would find, the starts and stops of experience.

The second section is a series of photographs that reprise the travelogue in visual form. The bulk of the photographs are landscapes; many are the well worn trope of a road or track receding towards the horizon. There are few people or buildings. The photographs are like walking: one foot in front of the other, slowly building into a journey of 807.3 kilometers. Several photographs do stand above and are absolutely beautiful in their atmospheric quality. One, in particular, grabs my attention: in the foreground there are mounds of dirt that look like Korean tombs but are nothing more than piles of fill, in the middle ground a line of trees extends halfway across horizon with the last few trees wind blown back, and in the background half screened by the trees a small town gives way to a blue horizon beneath a blue sky. The photographs are all horizontal, printed full page, two to a spread so that one must turn the book sideways to see them properly. There are two exceptions to this: a vertical of a church is run halfway (and could have been edited out) and the closing horizontal image of the sea that is run double truck also and forces the reader to turn the book back to its normal orientation. It is a nice transition.

The third section we return to text. Days, dates, locations and distances are in large blue lettering overlaid on top of background text describing the journey. Facts and figures; cold and hard. The design amplifies the content. We end with a blue map dotted with (Google) map pins.

We have three travelogues that reinterpret the same trip through different filters. We begin with the personal experience: direct, smudged, imperfect, tangential. One event or thought bleeding between past and future experiences. Our journey is next mediated by a machine eye. We have facts and visual clues but truth is still elusive. These facts are up for interpretation and reinterpretation. The suggest but cannot define. We end with a journey distilled into fact: distances traveled, cities visited, dates, times.

The journal pages I cannot understand, but I understand the idea of a journey that they embody. When I travel, I keep similar notebooks. The photographs present less a specific place for me than a rich suggestive vein of possibility. The facts and figures leave me cold and I can do little but flip through. It is the hand written notes and photographs that hold my attention. Neither provides me literal facts but each presents a journey taken and suggests journeys yet to be taken.

It all makes sitting in this windowless, fluorescent lit, cavernous room more bearable.

31 days 807.3km
Oh SeBeom

Fantasy Residency in North Korea: Please don’t take off the lids. The pots are empty.; Jooyoung Lee

Jooyoung Lee has not been to North Korea. “None of the photographs in this book were taken in North Korea.” The work contained within Fantasy Residency in North Korea, eight essays, conversations and other writings each followed by a series of photographs, was made by Lee in Berlin during a residency through PROGRAM. PROGRAM’s (now defunct) residency was aimed at testing the disciplinary boundaries of architecture through collaborations with other fields.

During her residency, Lee worked on her project “Let’s Walk and Chat Together,” which was “devised as an introduction to the city through the establishment of a more personal connection to the architecture and history by means of an exploration and excavation of the different historical and social layers” by means of collaborative walking tours. She invited anyone to walk with her in order to introduce her to their favorite and most emblematic places in Berlin. From these walks she conceived of the formerly divided Berlin as a stand in for the still divided Korean peninsula. From the photographs created during these walks, came the seeds for FRiNK.

Each chapter is a pairing of text and photographs. The photographs respond to and expand upon the ideas presented in the preceding section of text.

The first two chapters establish the analogy linking North Korea and the formerly divided Berlin and the political reality of the North/South division. In these sections, Lee “encounters” a North Korean man. The book then shifts to the emotional space of dislocation via Thomas Mader’s short story about a man lost in his hometown: the familiar made strange, neighbors made strangers. A conversation between Lee and Kyungchul Hyon takes us back to the Korean divide: Hyon is a North Korean studying at the Goethe Institute in Berlin. The two, one from the North and one from the South, walk together. During their walk they discuss the oddity of their even being in conversation, the emotions elicited by the site of the Berlin Wall and the political reality that surrounds and infuses their conversation. Chapter five is another conversation, this one between Lee and Friedmann Helms, who grew up in East Berlin until the age of 15 and later visited the DPRK to mark the 20th anniversary of German reunification. Helms describes the emotional experience of leaving East Germany and the strangeness of visiting North Korea–it is his description of seeing East German subway cars from his youth in the DPRK is poignant. This is followed by a free verse poetic interpretation by Lee of things Friedmann said. The next essay, written by Soohyun Kim, muses on what comprises a city. She argues for a broadly inclusive definition that allows for contemporary urban planning to accommodate the widely divergent social realities present in modern urban spaces. The final text is an artist’s statement wherein Lee explains the ideas that triggered FRiNK.

The series of photographs that follow each text are abstract. Though some refer directly to the texts, most are suggestive rather than descriptive: a woman looking at a fenced courtyard; a shower faucet, a stairwell window, a tightly cropped building facade; a handwritten note in Arabic on a notebook page, a boy playing soccer behind a gate, a bicycle leaning against a wall beneath the shadows of (cypress?) trees; two flash-lit men looking out into a darkness, coffee and kimchi, a woman photographing a man beside a pile of sandbags, an overpass support, a row of light bulbs,a beer, that boy playing soccer again, the exterior of a building (the same as that from the photograph in the first chapter). These are like memories drawn from a walk–details that have caught the eye. One building and its surrounds seems to draw the eye more frequently: the North Korean Embassy. Or, I presume it is the North Korean Embassy. Or maybe it is only the embassy imagined and projected from within the photographer (and by extension the viewer).

The design is straightforward with a Bauhaus vibe: functional, clear. The chapter title pages are stark: large white lettering on black pages. The texts are presented in Korean on the right hand page and in English on the left. The photographs run as though scrolling downwards on a webpage; when one hits the bottom of a printed page images are cut off and continued on the next page. As a photographer it is frustrating that the photographs are dark, their tones compressed and that many of the best are cut in two, but the photography is very much secondary here. It is an avenue by which Lee can get to where she is going.

I don’t have a clever closing for this review. The strong cover type and simple design initially drew me to the book. The form factor, the small format black and white photography and the political nature of the content are all right in the sweet spot of what interests me as a collector. And yet, I’ve never felt a strong affinity for the book. It’s held my interest but not elicited any strong emotional response. I suppose that is the review in condensed form: interesting ideas, very good design, no emotional connection.

Title: Fantasy Residency in North Korea: Please don’t take off the lids. The pots are empty.
Project, Text & Photography: Jooyoung Lee
Text Contributors: Soohyun Kim, Thomas Mader
Translations: Eunjoo Lee, Eunhee Park, Hoyun Son, Alysia Kim
Graphic Design: Ohyun Kwon

First Edition: November 2010
Supported by: Art Council of Korea & PROGRAM e.V.