Who is she?
Growing up, I never took a greater interest in politics. Neither did I do so from the time I discovered photography, which was in the late 90s.
However it all came to change 2011 when I was approached by a politician to take their portrait photos. The politician was the daughter of former President Park Chung-hee.
Luckily for me, I had the chance to study how politics and images correlate to one another, as a prime source of understanding I researched the images from the White House, of Barack Obama in depth. When comparing them to our (then) current President, one thing became clear, the cultural taste in the images had an evident gap in South Korea, and political images were merely a tool used for sending proof or information. Obama’s images had a cultural depth, almost like art.
An image of a politician can act as a symbol of a country’s cultural level. With this information and realization behind me that I could alter the perception of my country’s cultural level, taking on the task of photographing became of interest.
The first time I met with her, I was caught by surprise that she had a big scar on the left side of her face, I immediately suggested to photograph the side of her face with the scar – a suggestion she accepted.
She then proceeded to tell me about the story of her parents. Her father, was a prominent President who had passed away after having been assassinated and killed by a gunshot.
As she told me this I asked myself three questions, questions reflecting on how she became who she was:
1. How many people have parents who have been assassinated and killed by gunshots?
2. How many women carry scars of that size on their faces?
3. How many women live alone until their 60s?
I developed a strong sense of responsibility for making documentary images of her much like art, this even though I knew of her complete story since before.
Her scar could very well represent our country and its history, or the symbolic self-portrait of our people as a whole.
Her name is Park Geun Hye, and she was standing in the middle of modern Korean history, whether it was to her liking or not. The right side of face was unscarred, it signifies honor and development. Her left side, with the scar, signifies sacrifice, tears and suffering.
Completing capturing studio portraits of her, I started developing a documentary body of work for her. From the get-go, my concept was different from standard political images, more so because of how I was mixing documentary and art photography. The images were for her presidential campaign (likewise myself), so I often received the question “Why do you photograph her?” upon which my answer always was “She approached me about it, and caught my interest.”
One year into photographing her, I realized that I subconsciously photographed her back more than anything. At this time I sat down with the images and started analyzing them, much like one sits down trying to interpret one’s own dreams. What I was striving to visualize was not her front side, much like all other photographers do, I wanted to visualize her affection onto the people around her and capture her perspective of things.
Actually, during the time of creating this project critics often considered me a right-wing person. However, my reply was always “I am able to capture culture and politics, embodied by one sole figure, so why should I not?”
With the election closing in, the election staff met me with more resistance they asked me “Why do you insist on her backside? Political figures need to show their faces.” upon which my answer was “Everybody else already cover the pictures from the front. What I am doing is showing viewers in what way she affects the people that meet her, they show her reflection and she theirs.” But by this time I already had a sufficient amount of images for creating my body of work. She succeeded in becoming the first female president of South Korea, I did not proceed with capturing more images of her, nor was I able to present the completed body of work. I would like to photograph her again, I have always respect Pete Souza, the White House main photographer. His images are always striking, with cultural excellence and an art feeling to them.
In Korean (originally a Chinese word), the word pronounced as the English “Who”, means either “Backside” or “After”. While in English it means “Who”. Thus, with the title being “Who is she?” it becomes bigger than just her, and it no longer is a mere questions, it bears a symbolical meaning, she is us.