In times where everything problematizes reality as a result of market-driven neuroticism, I longed to escape into a trouble-free and perfect world—a utopia.

This project starts with a consideration of beauty and the sublime. The influential Chinese landscape painter Guo Xi (c. 1020-1090) wrote a sentence which feels appropriate for the time we live in: “Nobody likes to be hindered by worldly troubles.”

This sentence encapsulates my inner thoughts. Sometimes it seems that we misbehaved in heaven and were therefore kicked out and doomed to suffer on earth. We long to get back, to reascend—but we don’t know how.

On the South Korean island of Saryangdo, an English teacher tells the legend of Ognyeo, a Korean princess who was sent here by her father as a punishment for sins committed in the celestial world. Both Guo Xi’s phrase and the Korean legend are mildly ironic and naive; the viewer then attempts to document, capture, and sometimes stage reality. This exists in opposition to photography, where images are used to escape from reality, to fit a sense of poetry in our daily lives.

—Franky Verdickt

Editors’ note: This project was made into a beautiful book which was shortlisted during the Liège Photobook Festival 2016.

In conjunction with the LensCulture Exposure Awards 2017 (accepting submissions until December 20, 2016), we are highlighting work from our previous winners and finalists. Don’t miss your chance to enter this year’s competition!