I was astonished by the tiny black and white photographs that my grandfather made in the 1930s. He was not a professional photographer, but he had an artist’s sensibility, and this would have been lost to me if I had not found the box of photos after he was gone.

His photos sat before me, faded and worn, but the images were alive with a fragile beauty of expression and gesture. The people in these images displayed grace and dignity, revealing little of the harsh life they had experienced under Japanese colonial rule. Except for a few photos of my grandmother, the portraits were of people I didn’t recognize. But the candid images were haunting, and I started to wonder. In my imagination, I began to create small visual poems, woven fabric of memory and dreams, to give life again to these lost images.

I altered the images to create new narratives as composites, where the past and present coexist and resonate. I merged my grandfather’s images and my own, using fragments from the old photos, and re-contextualized these with a new vision. The result is images as small stories that transcend the people, place and time originally portrayed.

Photography, as a window to place, time and memory, has enabled me to reconnect to my grandfather and to collaborate with him in creating a new poetic narrative.

—Soomin Ham

Editor’s Note: Soomin Ham was the 2nd Place Series Winner in this year’s LensCulture Portrait Awards. Be sure to check out the other award-winning images and finalists here.