Korea through a rough lens

December 20, 2013

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By Yun Suh-young

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They say a picture is worth a thousand words. In photography, the saying underpins the idea that powerful images tell stories — so much so that words are extraneous.

Photographer Im Jay-cheon takes the adage literally in his new book, “The Rediscovery of Korea,” which presents stark images of life in the Korean countryside. Im eschews words altogether, providing no explanations or titles, allowing the images to speak for themselves.

“The Rediscovery of Korea” contains various images of life in the Korean countryside. (Courtesy of Noonbit Publishing)

“The Rediscovery of Korea” contains various images of life in the Korean
countryside. (Courtesy of Noonbit Publishing)

Im — who, ironically, majored in creative writing — relents in the form of an author’s note at the end of the book, which gives a brief description of his life story. But his intent to allow the images to do all the talking is clear.

The photos are rough and dark at first glance. He uses the least amount of light possible to make his statement; the minimum exposure creates the lonely, serene atmosphere.

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Im’s subjects include the elderly, merchants, fishermen and divers. But to an extent, they are subjects in name only, as they blend into the background while the sky or landscape is emphasized.

Im’s photos aren’t shocking or inspiring but rather mundane; the scenes are those travelers would encounter in rural areas. At first glance, they look like casual snapshots but when inspected closely, one can see they are calculated for a certain effect.

The beautifully-colored skies contrast with the worn out houses and wrinkled faces. An old woman doing chores outside contrasts with the bright sky reflected on a window. The difficult living situations of the people are made more impactful by their juxtaposition with the beauty of nature.

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