Nearly every day, around the world, one can read in the papers some kind of news heralding the tension surrounding the Korean Peninsula. And yet the people who live in the country, perhaps because they are in the eye of the storm, remain quite doubtful of war. The closest feeling they have to fear is just annoyance, it is as if the people have a thorn stuck under their nails that can never be taken out.

The work of the five artists introduced here comes out of the daily experience of such discomfort, the nagging feeling of an unending cold war.

Suntag Noh is a photographer who has persistently pursued how Korea’s divided condition affects both the North and South, in political and social aspects. The project featured here, “reallyGood, murder”, mocks South Korea’s arms industry. Under the name of security, the arms industry is ever-growing. Every day, it gains more confidence in its righteous function. By photographing airshows and arms expos, Noh reveals the irony that all these weapons are, in the end, killing machines made under the guise of ‘rightful murder’.

Jae-gu Kang’s “A Private” is a series of portraits depicting freshly joined army recruits. The nervous expressions on their young faces are the essence of military culture in South Korea, a country where all men are obligated serve in the army. With the title “12mm”, which indicates the hair length of recruits, Kang’s portrait project is ongoing. He has gone on to  cover various manifestations of Korean military culture, from privates to reserve forces. 

“Utopia”, by Seungwoo Back, captures and magnifies building images cut out from North Korean propaganda photographs obtained in Japan. Back takes these images and synthesizes them into the styles of Russian constructionism or German Bauhaus. The forms are exaggerated and the colors are distorted. The spaces within his photographs becomes so obscure that, rather than utopias, they appear ungrounded in any reality whatsoever. The work brings its viewers to a dystopia, where all the traces of humanity are gone.

Meanwhile, Xuezhe Shen’s “The Tumen River on the Border” is a series of documentary landscape photographs. The scenes are taken from the Tumen riverbanks, on the border between China and North Korea. While Shen currently resides in South Korea, he was born and raised in Yanbian, China to a half Korean, half Chinese family. These Korean-Chinese are descendants of Koreans who were forced to move to China during the Japanese occupation. The Tumen River which Shen gazes at from the Chinese side of the bank is barren to the point of surreality. At the same time, there is an air of melancholy to his work, like a scene from an old memory, or from a childhood home. 

Insook Kim is a third generation Zainichi, currently based in Seoul. Many Koreans settled in Japan during the Japanese occupation era and a large number of them were unable to return to their motherland even after the war. Zainichi is a common term that refers to Koreans residing in Japan. Each Zainichi is faced with the question of whether to feel Japanese or Korean. Not only that, but they are also forced to choose between South or North Korean nationality. By focusing on the Zainichi people, Kim’s work highlights the identity conflicts of everyday life. In particular, “Sweet Hours” portrays children going to a school managed by Chongryon, the General Association of North Korean Residents in Japan. Kim is in the midst of a 20-year project, during which she will follow these students throughout their lives.

  — Sujong Song 

Sujong Song is active in a broad spectrum of photography-related projects: publishing, exhibition curating, criticism, and teaching. She is especially interested in expanding the contact points between photography and the public, using photography’s wide ranging forms. Song has participated in several photography festivals, including the Angkor Photography Festival where she was on the executive committee. She is currently a committee member of the Daegu Photo Biennale, in South Korea. She was honored to be a judge at World Press Photo, Photo Lucida, POYi  and other photographic awards. She has curated a number of exhibitions, including “Memento Vita” at the Seoul Metropolitan Museum, “Paradise Lost” at the Goeun Photography Museum, and “Mario Giacomelli” at Seoul Photography Festival.