N.B. I am writing a series of research posts to introduce a selection of Korean landscape photographers, in part expanding my Literature Review for CS, but will also inform BoW.
The first word that comes to mind when viewing the work of Min Byunghun (b. 1955) would probably be ‘absence’. His work perhaps more than any New Wave photographer relies less on cultural signifiers and more on the presence of absence, creating atmospheres. Art critic Oh Kwangsoo describes the work aptly saying “Everything existing on the border of what is and what isn’t, are endlessly erased away, and then endlessly revived.” (Oh, 2006, p.7). Min’s main source of inspiration is nature but his subject is sometimes nondescript, or like his series Weed (see fig. 1.) a muse that doesn’t have reverie.
Unlike many Western approaches to nature, Min’s work is a study, an exploration without a purpose of conclusion. He recognises that all his themes are ‘incomplete’ in that they belong to a time and something that isn’t resolved, something he may come back to again later. Contrasting this with predecessors in the West such as Karl Blossfeldt (see fig. 2.) who adopts a much more systematic approach, surveying botanics as a “…target of research and conquest.” (Byun, 2009, p.8).
It is in this case that Min is much more a traditional East Asian artist with the wish for the viewer to “…to enter his mind. The landscape is an inner one, a spiritual and conceptual space.” (Trouveroy, 2003, p.6). This approach expands out of the scale of still-life and into the wide expanse of landscape. Both his series Deep Fog and Snowland (see fig. 3.) also do not symbolically represent ‘Koreanness’ but utilise absence as an essential element of the image. Min’s solitary lifestyle is also reminiscent of old-sage mythologies like those Nathalie Trouveroy writes about in Landscape of the Soul (2003).
Perhaps the lack of connection between Min’s work to the global approach to landscape should not be surprising. The landscape traditions of East Asia and the philosophical influence of Buddhist, Confucian and Taoist values have both predated and outlasted the Western style. Min did not study in Europe or America so any hybrid reference points will be from a distance. However, Nudes (see fig. 4.) is a departure for Min. One that proposes a greater potential for connection to European abstraction. On more familiar ground the Western eye can see traces of Bill Brandt, Brassai and Man Ray’s Anatomies (see fig. 5.) in the desire to keep the image more opaque. But again we could say that in the spirit of his landscapes, suggestion is more appealing to his vision than the sheer nakedness of his subject, metaphorical and physical.
A commonality in Min’s work is a feeling of the lens being veiled in some way. In Weed, he is studying his subject through the greenhouse facade. In Snowland and Deep Fog, nature is enveloping the subject. While in Nude, both the point of focus and another material (perhaps a misted glass) is concealing the human form. The slow reveal of Min’s photographs is an experiential one, with a deep sense of craft employed in his prints the technical detail is present without being the point of focus.
As is common with the photographers I have researched, there is a desire to craft each stage of the photographic process. Min, like many of his contemporaries does not wish to deviate from methods he has developed in his early career. It is not so much the process, analogue vs digital that matters to him, but the investment of time and knowledge acquired during this period that is not worth any compromise for the sake of using what is available today. Modestly saying that ”...after 30 years I feel like I don’t have the basics down yet”. I like this approach, as it does not regard one method as superior, but that the method which is superior to the artist is the one he/she continues to learn from, can engage with and express their vision. Will we be saying the same thing about digital in the decades to come?
Byun, W (2009) ‘A Pine Tree Telling Us about "the Pine Tree"’. In: Bae, Bien-U Sacred Wood. Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag. pp 7-10
Korean Artist Project (no date) Available at: http://www.koreanartistproject.com/eng_artist.art?method=artistView&flag=artist&auth_reg_no=22 (Accessed on 25.11.18)
Min, Byunghun (2006) Weed. Seoul: Homi Publishing House.
Min, Byunghun (2006) Snowland. Seoul: CAIS Gallery.
Min, Byunghun (2011) Deep Fog. Seoul: Gahyeon Foundation of Culture.
Oh, K (2006) ‘Landscapes on the Border’. In: Min, Byunghun Snowland. Seoul: CAIS Gallery. pp 6-7
Trouveroy, N (2003) ‘Landscape of the Soul: Ethics and Spirituality in Chinese Painting’. In: India International Centre Quarterly 30(1), pp 5-19
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Min, Byunghun (1996) VW020 ED20 [Photograph] At: http://www.koreanartistproject.com/eng_artist.art?method=artistView&auth_reg_no=22&flag=artist&flag2=crit&flagsub=Y (Accessed on 26.11.18)
Figure 2. Blossfeldt, Karl (1928) Adiantum pedatum [Photograph]. At: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/83716 (Accessed on 26.11.18).
Figure 3. Min, Byunghun (2005) SL005 [Photograph]. At: http://www.koreanartistproject.com/eng_artist.art?method=artistView&auth_reg_no=22&flag=artist&flag2=crit&flagsub=Y (Accessed on 22.11.18).
Figure 4. Min, Byunghun (2008) MG004 [Photograph]. At: http://www.koreanartistproject.com/eng_artist.art?method=artistView&auth_reg_no=22&flag=artist&flag2=crit&flagsub=Y (Accessed on 26.11.18).
Figure 5. Man Ray (1929) Anatomies [Photograph]. At: https://www.moma.org/collection/works/46921 (Accessed on 26.11.18).