Category Archives: Film

New posts coming

I am obviously behind on this blog. And now I’m more behind: I brought back a pile of books from my trip to Seoul back in November of last year (1, 2, 3). So there’ll be new content here soon.

In particular, I plan to write about Listen to the City’s Protest as I think it presents a number of useful things to think about in the current political climate. A number of the things I wanted to write about have already come to pass–major protests here in the US and considerations of how to maintain political action in order to effectively affect change rather than simply channel anger or disappointment.

And there are some fluffier books that are more fun to talk about.

And a new conversation about considerations when building a library for an academic institution. It’s been conducted, I’ve just got to find time to transcribe it…

Something for everyone.

Good stuff.

Shattered, Pyokisik


Writing about Sogyumo Acacia Band on SeoulBeats, Ambika describes Song Eun Ji’s vocals as “breathy but clear,” and concludes that “their songs are great for sitting back and enjoying the interplay of sounds.” These descriptions could be applied equally well to Pyokisik’s first book of photographs, Shattered–and the comparison is apt as Song writes the introductory essay for the book and the musical duo appears in several of the photographs.

Photography is a record of light on surface–but not simply the light reflected off surfaces before the camera. At its core, photography is the record of light passing through a lens’s optical surfaces and falling on the surface of the recording medium. (Ignore for the moment lensless and experimental photography.) Light is distorted at each link in the imaging chain. Pyokisik’s photographs show the world through surfaces that distort it or reflected in imperfect mirrors. The optical and chemical systems through which they are recorded cause their own distortions. There is a loose and casual snapshot quality to them. This is a personal narrative being subjectively delivered.

shattered 01

The photographs in Shattered have a deep atmospheric quality that plays on these distortions. The opening image is of a bush with the sky behind. It is distorted here and there by water droplets on a surface through which the photographer pointed his camera. A softness pervades the image. (This image appears on the cover as well.) The atmospheric show continues: Light through a wooded scene; flare turns the left hand side of the image to orange flame. A couple sits on a rock outcropping looking across a bay towards a city lit up in the twilight; a long exposure has blurred the scene and the point light sources bleed into the evening haze enveloping them. A woman’s hand holds a half-smoked cigarette; the middle of the frame is lost to lens flare while the top of the frame is out of focus foliage.

shattered 06

Song’s essay is nearly as abstract as the photographs to which it provides context. It can be summed up thusly:

…I have gained clarity in this such as: what am I able to do and what I am not able to do, or between what I think I know and what I do not know, or what I am interested in and what I am not interested in and lastly between what I like and what I do not like. Perhaps, I have come to know how to best reduce the energy of anxiety in my mind.

shattered 03

Clarity is not something that is in ample supply in Shattered. Song closes her essay with this line: “It will all be alright because nothing is stranger than the fact that something is missing in the world.” If we are to take Pyokisik’s photographs as the world, then there is much missing in or elided from them. They present a beautiful view of the world, however much it might be distorted. I am left, however, with questions: Given Sogyumo Acacia Band’s appearance in a handful of the book’s photographs, I wonder if Shattered is about them or if they are merely part of Pyokisik’s social circle? Is there an underlying psychological meaning? Is the anxiety and the hint of depression that Song writes about what ties these photographs together? Are they about being unmoored from the world, a pane of distortion separating the world and the self?

shattered 04

In the end, I am left with beautiful breathy images that toy with the interplay of light on and through surfaces. Many of these images would find a happy home on someone’s wall. Myself, I find an image of smoke in front of a window set in a concrete wall and reflecting a blue sky to be endlessly fascinating. The world is shown as layers of distortion, reflection and hazy elision.

The photographs in Shattered are beautiful, and the book itself is a lovely object beautifully printed on alternating signatures of coated and uncoated paper stocks and a stitched binding without boards. However beautiful, I do not know, quite, what it all means.

shattered 05

Edit: Jeong Eun Kim
Design: RAAH
Assistants: Hyunjung Son, Sina Kim
Printed in Korea:

KID NOSTALGIA: Portraits of South Korean Youth, Park Sung Jin

Kid Nostalgia, Park Sung Jin, Cover

Park Sung Jin’s KID Nostalgia is a collection of sensitive, square format, black and white portraits of South Korean youth in school uniform taken between 2001 and 2009. The subjects are set center frame with side street or back alleyway urban scenes surrounding them. The portraits are roughly evenly split between waist up and full length views. The black and white is the soft gray of a subtle, classic aesthetic that doesn’t call attention to itself. The books uses a simple layout in which each portrait is presented individually on the right hand page of a spread.

Kid Nostalgia, Park Sung Jin, interior spread
With a few exceptions, Park’s subjects gaze directly through the camera towards the viewer. This gaze is direct but not confrontational. In fact, there is a kind of softness to this eye contact. While there are the outward signs of youthful rebellion–cigarettes, mussed hairstyles and punked-out uniforms, the youths’ eyes belie a certain reticence. They hold themselves with an awkwardness that suggests naivete or innocence. There is longing and insecurity. There is intensity, too; so much so that they seem ready to burst into flame. These cool kids smolder.

Photographs are of their maker as much as of what stood before the lens. The choices that one makes in selecting a subject, deciding how to depict and frame that subject and ordering the resulting pictures in series all are decided by and define the maker’s state of mind. Though born in Seoul (where many of these photographs were taken), he came to New York City in 1987 at the age of 17. In New York, Park found “a place where every conceivable race [lives] side by side, but they don’t actually mix… Instead they live within their own identities.” Park notes that Kid Nostalgia is, in a sense, his “trying to find [his] own forgotten roots.”

Kid Nostalgia, Park Sung Jin, interior spread One comparison that springs readily to mind when viewing Kid Nostalgia is with Hein-Kuhn Oh’s Girls Act. The subject matter is quite similar, and the black and white aesthetics are even similar. The photographs come from entirely different mindsets, though, and these differences are apparent in the details. In Park’s “남산동 2005” for an example, the camera has been fitted with a slightly wide lens and positioned at the subject’s eye level. This even footing grants an instant conversational familiarity and shows the subject within an environment. Oh’s photographs, such as “Jin-hee Han, age 17, 2003,” are shot from a low vantage point. The viewer looks up at the subject, who becomes monumental. Oh’s low vantage point and longer lens places the horizon low in the frame, minimizing the subject’s relationship to her surroundings by placing her against the relatively neutral ground of the sky. The lighting is different, too: Park’s light is soft and coming from behind the subjects; it is probably the filtered light of an overcast sky. Oh’s light is hard, directional and frontal–direct flash on axis with the Oh’s lens.

These subtle differences in how the photographers use similar black and white materials to depict similar subjects limn a critical divide between them. Oh looks outward with a critical gaze and a clear concept (both Girl Act specifically and in his work broadly) that is as direct and hard as the light in “Jin-hee Han, age 17, 2003.” This concept can loosely be defined as the way that social markers of identity both bind groups of people together but also alienate and limit those same people.In contrast, Park looks inward. His vision relies on his subjects being their “raw and fresh” selves. In fact, it is precisely his subjects’ refusal to play by the rules, their skulking about on the “periphery” that makes these kids such powerful avatars for Park. The soft light that suffuses Park’s photographs denotes a kind of romanticism–it caps the subjects of “남산동 2005” with halos such that one might read them as mischievous alternative saints.

Kid Nostalgia, Park Sung Jin, interior spread For all Park’s talk about his subjects’ rawness, the photographs are remarkably chaste. This is not Elle Perez’s ghettopunk and not even within shouting distance of Dash Snow’s Polaroids. These kids may be full of excitement and energy but that energy never breaks the photographic surface. Park treats the youth with incredible sensitivity but imbues them with a nostalgia that is unlikely their own. It is the nostalgia of someone looking back. One wonders how these kids might depict themselves.

Kid Nostalgia is, physically, simply appointed. It’s design is minimal and straightforward, mirroring the subtle aesthetics of the photographs while relying on them to carry their own weight. The heavyweight glossy dust jacket features the image “가리봉동 2005” on the front; the title, photographer’s name and publisher in English and Korean are on the spine; and a UPC code on the back. The book’s hardcover boards are a cheap glossy white with only the title and UPC code on the blindingly bare front cover and title, photographer’s name and publisher in English and Korean on the spine. The plates are nicely but not luxuriously printed on paper stock thin enough that a reader can nearly read the photographs through each page’s backside. The production quality of the book will not win any awards, though it does its job in delivering the photography simply and without fuss.

KID NOSTALGIA: Portraits of South Korean Youth
Park Sung Jin
Edited by Kim Kwangchul
Translation by Colin Mouat
Design by Gang Moonsik
Printed by Sinsago Hi-techj
propaganda press (site, contact)