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.
Bae Bien-U (b. 1950) is regarded as one of the driving forces behind the rapid growth of the Korean photography scene since the 1990’s (Lee, 2014). He is most renowned for his series Sonamu (see. fig. 1) which resonates with the deep rooted cultural identity of pine trees in Korea (and by extension East Asia in general). His use of a panoramic camera evokes comparisons with traditional scrolls and screens of East Asia art.
The choice of subject is not one that is new to Korea. There is a long history of pine trees used in traditional arts across China, Korea and Japan (see fig. 2.). His photography is in some ways a bridge between the past, and the future. As one of the early Korean artists allowed to travel, Bae was inspired by the early abstract work of László Moholy-Nagy and the studiousness of Edward Weston (Lee, 2014). Such influences, together with Korean photography being out of time from the Western narrative of 20th century art history suggests Bae’s work being of relevance to a newly industrialised Korea’s desire to retain its cultural roots while simultaneously engaging in a globalised world (Lee, 2016).
While one would primarily recognise the Asian representation of depth through the use of mist (absence) and tone in much of Sonamu, throughout the decades he photographed the pine trees of Kyongju Bae has also experimented with the Western use of perspective and ‘worm’s-eye view’ (see fig. 3.) which creates a distinctly dynamic aesthetic which resonates with his interest in Moholy-Nagy.
Perhaps going even further there is a strong homage to Alexandr Rodchenko’s Pine Trees in Pushkin Park (see fig. 4.). The graphical nature is less utilised in Bae’s work but it does demonstrate a potential desire to experiment with cultural exchange. These works are less seen in exhibitions and I wonder if this is due to the protection of the cultural aesthetic or a to avoid comparisons with the wider photographic world.
Certainly in the texts written about Bae there is a frequent sense of reverie in how he ‘sees’ nature. But the question sometimes of how Western travels and education influenced this ‘new wave’ of Korean photographers in general is conspicuous by its absence. Yet such cultural exchange is not new to the current era of globalisation. As I encountered recently in my research into studies of air and water. The 18th century screens of Maruyama Ōkyo combine both Zen minimalism and Western vanishing point.
In the publication Windscape (2012) Bae combines two bodies of work; Oreum and Sea which are largely taken on Jeju island. Once again here we can see the mix of national identity and a hybrid of East and West. Jeju is a beautiful place and again evokes a strong emotional connection to Koreans. The shoreline rocks that are polished by the waves in Sea (see fig. 5.) again show an angled perspective while the absence of detail in the water creates an eerie negative space familiar in Maruyama’s Cracked Ice.
The minimalism of both series connects with East Asia reflections and poetics of nature. And it is true that in the viewing experience of Bae’s large format work has a tranquil presence that together with other photographers of the era have drawn me in to the movement. It is sometimes frustrating that much of the writing barely moves out of being descriptive. Sometimes no more than paying lip service.
It is in examples such as this that I have found myself playing detective. Proposing comparisons with other works from Western photography history and researching more fully into sansuwha (East Asia landscape traditions) which ultimately forms the basis of my CS.
Bae, B (no date) Available at: http://www.bbuart.com (Accessed on 30.10.18)
Bae, Bien-U (2009) Sacred Wood. Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag.
Bae, Bien-U (2012) Windscape. Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag.
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
Lee, C (2014) Korean Beauty: Two Kinds of Nature Seoul: Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Lee, J (2016) Public to Private: Photography in Korean Art since 1989 Seoul: Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art
Lee-Kalisch, J. (2012) ‘The Silent Melody in the Wind’. In: Bae, Bien-U Windscape Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag. pp 7-12
Wagner, T. (2009) ‘A Temple of Decrepitude’. In: Bae, Bien-U Sacred Wood. Germany: Hatje Cantz Verlag. pp 13-19
List of illustrations
Figure 1. Bae, Bien-U (2015) SNM5A-011H [Photograph] At: http://www.collectionsocietegenerale.com/en/news/7200-the_spring_of_bae_bien-u_between_fair_and_forest.html (Accessed on 30.10.18)
Figure 2. Hasegawa, Tōhaku (c.1595) Pine Trees Shōrin-zu byōbu [Painting] At: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shōrin-zu_byōbu#/media/File:Hasegawa_Tohaku_-_Pine_Trees_(Shōrin-zu_byōbu)_-_left_hand_screen.jpg (Accessed on 30.10.18)
Figure 3. Bae, Bien-U (2002) SNM1A-050H [Photograph] At: https://curiator.com/art/bae-bien-u/3 (Accessed on 30.10.18)
Figure 4. Rodchenko, A (1927) Pine Trees in Pushkin Park [Photograph] At: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/alexander-rodchenko-pine-trees (Accessed on 30.10.18)
Figure 5. Bae, Bien-U (1999) SEA1A-050H [Photograph] At: https://christopheguye.com/exhibitions/windscape/works (Accessed on 30.10.18)