There is quiet an active photography scene in Ulsan, South Korea, where I spend at least 75% of my time. This scene is prevalent in both the local and expat communities, but personally I never seem to hear much about any photography exhibitions, so when the “Ulsan International Photo Festival” appeared on the horizon at the beginning of June I could not wait to go along and have a look
I have only ever visited two real exhibitions, so I was a little dubious about what I would find here, firstly I did not know what to expect, especially in a country that is foreign to me and where English is not the primary language; and secondly there would be twenty-six main exhibitors in total, all from different parts of the world, with different photography styles; each with different stories to tell.
This fantastic image, big, bold and covering half of the Ulsan Culture and Arts Centre’s front wall greeted me – this was definitely going to be an interesting show.
This image is by Valsecchi Olivier (France) and forms part of his exhibit ‘Time of War’; a small part of which was included in this show.
Entrance to the exhibition was KWN 8,000.00, which sounds a lot, but equates to around £5 depending on exchange rates, so even if the show turned out to be bad, it did not cost an arm or leg to visit.
My exhibition visit took place on the fourth day around lunchtime, and I was a little taken aback to find that I would be sharing the space with around twenty kindergarten-aged children. Not the kind of activity you would expect kids of this age to enjoy, but the group really seemed to be engaged and enjoying themselves, the teachers seemed to be having a good time too.
The space was really well laid out, it was bright, airy and well lit, although a little tired in places and a fresh coat of paint would have helped to make the images really pop. Each exhibitor had between one and ten images on display, and I think this was governed by actual exhibition space over the number of images allowed as some images were large and others smaller, but each seemed to govern the same amount of physical wall space.
As the exhibition was quiet, I was able to really have a look at the works on display, stand in close for further inspection, move away to take in all of the images as both a group and/or individually, I even visit some photos three and four times – something I have never been able to do at exhibitions in the West. I was also allowed to take photos during my time in the hall, so I have been able to take records of those images I liked as well as those I was a little disappointed in.
The quality of the images on display were mostly exceptional, even those that had been enlarged to mammoth sizes; but as I was able to get up close and very personal with the artwork, I did find that some of the prints were of very bad quality with dust and water spots present as well as hair ingrained within the final print. I found this very disappointing, the fact that some of the artists did not seem to take pride in that final process of their workflow – something I thought they would have been on top of beings they had been invited to exhibit at the show.
So, who really stood out to me? Of the twenty-six artists on display, ten stood out and three really made an impression; and of all of the images I saw, I have chosen three as my all time favourites. As seen by the poster that advertised the photo festival, Valsecchi Olivier (France) was a major part of the exhibition and he displayed four photos from his exhibit ‘Time of War III’.
A better representation of these photos, as well as the artists idea behind the images can be found at the following link on the festivals official website http://www.ulsanphoto.org/exhibition/artist/Valsecchi_Olivier
I think the thing that really stands out for me is how OLIVIER has nailed the rational behind his images, capturing the stillness of the models within the chaos of the surrounding ash cloud. In the exhibition programme he states:
This entire work is about storm inside the calm, or translating deafening sounds (screams, explosions) into silent pictures that convey the same rage and energy.
This is a very good translation as you can feel exactly what the artist is trying to put across and the subject matter is well translated in the images. These shots were also very clean and crisp with a mountain of fine detail contained within.
Another striking collection included images from the Iranian photographer Shadi Ghadirian.
This collection of work is from a larger body titled ‘Nil, Nil’ outlining the juxtaposition between war and peace.
I think this stood out more because of the subtleness of the photos and how GHADIRIAN has juxtaposed everyday items with those items associated with war.
Looking further at the work of GHADIRIAN http://shadighadirian.com you can begin to understand where this artist is coming from and what messages she wants the world to see and understand. I am also beginning to see and understand that juxtaposition is used quiet a lot in imagery, especially where specific messages are being portrayed, my first two choices here are good examples of this.
When I first saw my next choice of exhibitor, I thought the images were a fun body of work created by a photographer with a vivid imagination, but upon further research it appears that Annie Hsiao-Ching Wang (Taiwan) used these images as part of her research degree at the university of Brighton.
I think this is a very cleaver collection of work that has been well though out and follows the journey of a mother brining up her child.
WANG’s studies surrounded the relationship between a mother and child and here we can see a group of photos taken over a period of ten years.
Each year’s image outlines a specific milestone in this family’s life and each includes the image taken the previous year, which helps to record the passing of time.
More details of WANG’s work can be found at the exhibitions official website: http://www.ulsanphoto.org/exhibition/artist/Annie_Hsiao-Ching_Wang
Now that I have had time to think about the exhibition and revisit the images and their artists, I believe that I chose these three photographers as my favourites, as each of their works have hidden messages, which in turn have really made me think about the subject matter. It is nice to take a photo for the sake of taking a photo, as most of the photographers in the exhibition have done, but sometimes photography can be used to convey a stronger message and this is what these three artists are trying to do, take interesting photos that also send a message or tell an interesting story.
Aside from these three, there were other great artists exhibiting in Ulsan such as Ragnar Axelsson (Iceland) who included photos of the rugged Icelandic landscape and teams of working huskies; Jason Teal (Canada) who is a passionate HDR photographer and exhibited some very surreal images of Ulsan, yes, Jason resides in Ulsan and is someone whose work I follow on a regular basis. I was also surprised to find David Chambon (France) exhibiting some of his exquisite macro photos; I had only a few days before read a small article about David’s work in the June 2013 edition of Digital Camera, so it was great to see some of his images up close and personal. A full list of those exhibitors along with the images they exhibited can be found at the official Ulsan International Photo Festival website:
So, my three favourite images, in no particular order are:
Taken by extreme mountaineering and rock climbing photographer Robert Bosch (Swiss), this image holds many emotions; freedom, vitality, amazement, stupidity, awe. How can one image make you think so many things all at once? This is one of those photos that you wish you could take, and have the courage to get into this position in the first place. I like the wide-open space, the composition and the way the light highlights the mouth of the cave, as it sets behind the mountains in one last show of spectacle.
My next image is by Russian photographer Andrew Osokin, famed for his macro photography and here at the exhibition his images are of melting snowflakes.
The detail contained in this image is astounding, and to think it is of a melting snowflake! Images like this is what inspires me to be a photographer, to find the simplicity and beauty in everyday objects and show them in a way that is quiet unimaginable. Not that long ago, I would have thought that taking photos like this requires a special kind of person, with special equipment and certain skills, but I am learning over time that with a little patience and willingness to learn, even photos like this are achievable.
And my final image is another macro shot, taken by the photographer David Chambon (France).
This was one of the images I found in my photography magazine, and I had already earmarked it as an all-time favourite shot, and seeing it in full glory at the exhibition really cemented that thought.
Again, the detail in this macro photo is amazing and not what you would expect to see when dissecting an early morning jaunt in the garden. The colours complement each other well and the composition and placement of the dragonfly balances the image nicely, although I am not quiet sure what the red spike to the left is, and this does spoil the image a little, but that said, it is still one of my favourite shots from the show.
So, all in all, I think that the Ulsan International Photo Festival was a success. I do not know how many people visited, or how successful it was to my home town, and I will never know what others thought of the show, unless some of my friends ever comment, but I really enjoyed the experience and I think the hosts displayed a nice varied range of work covering many aspects of life and many views of the world. By visiting an exhibition like this, you are able to take in lots of different kinds of imagery, and by having different genres of artwork in the same room helps to breakdown what kinds of images one likes and what as photographers we are drawn towards.
Although everything was written and displayed in Korean, this did not hinder my participation in the show (this was something that had worried me beforehand) and it actually made things a little more intriguing to the foreign visitor, who was able to formulate their own opinion of the work, then go away and research further into those artists they were more drawn towards.
Some of the images were a little strange, which should be expected, and some very political in their viewpoint. Some of the images were in my mind poorly produced, but others were amazing in their clarity but for me personally I had a great exhibition experience – in fact I may have been a little spoilt as I do not think I will be able to view works under these circumstances again. This outing has also revved me up, so I am looking for some more interesting shows to attend, especially as I am in the UK for the next few months …
Bosch, R. (n.d.) n.k. [Photograph] ‘Ulsan International Photo Festival’ exhibition. Ulsan, South Korea: The Ulsan Culture and Arts Centre. 6 – 18 June 2013.
Chambon, D. (2012) n.k. [Photograph] ‘Ulsan International Photo Festival’ exhibition. Ulsan, South Korea: The Ulsan Culture and Arts Centre. 6 – 18 June 2013.
Olivier, V. (2013) Time of War Series, n.d. [Photograph] ‘Ulsan International Photo Festival’ exhibition. Ulsan, South Korea: The Ulsan Culture and Arts Centre. 6 – 18 June 2013.
Olivier, V. (2013) Ulsan International Photo Festival. Ulsan, South Korea: The Ulsan Culture and Arts Centre.
Osokin, A. (n.d.) n.k. [Photograph] ‘Ulsan International Photo Festival’ exhibition. Ulsan, South Korea: The Ulsan Culture and Arts Centre. 6 – 18 June 2013.
Anon. (2013) Shoot beautiful dew-coated bugs. Digital Camera. June. p.18