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Kim Ok Sun’s foreigner photography exhibition, Jeju, South Korea

30 August 2008 No Comment

Bright Portrait In 1653, Jeju met its first foreigner. It came in the form of a shipwrecked Dutchman named Hendrick Hamel. The local community must not have liked what they saw, as they immediately shipped Hamel and his crew off the island to live in captivity in Seoul. It took Hamel and a handful of crewmates nearly 13 years to escape.

Nowadays, Jeju is far more hospitable to its foreign guests. The island attracts an eclectic group of foreigners who have come to live here for wildly different reasons. Their lives and dreams have become the subject of an award winning photo project by fine art photographer Kim Oksun.

Kim has titled her project ‘Hamel’s Boat’. She explains that as Hamel languished through his 13 years of captivity, boats become a symbol of his dreams and desires for freedom. “I want people to feel freedom from my photos,” says Kim, who sees lives filled with freedom and hope when she looks at foreigners residing on Jeju today.

Hamel’s Boat is the culmination of over 18 months of work, and documents the lives of nearly 70 people. Using a Horseman Field Camera with a 150mm lens and a 90mm wide lens, Kim broke from past work which found her doing portraiture in closed locations. With Hamel’s Boat, Kim sought to better understand Jeju’s unique environment and photograph people in a way that saw them interacting with its landscape. In 2007, her work was recognized by the Geonhi Art Foundation, who awarded Kim the Daum Prize along with $45,000. Kim used her prize to fund the opening of a gallery in Jeju along with a companion book featuring photos from Hamel’s Boat.

Her work captures a singular moment in Jeju’s history and creates a compelling time capsule for what Kim calls the “modern successors of Hamel”. Many on Jeju today will recognize their friends and coworkers, both past and present, having now been turned into works of introspective art. In one work, Victor Ryashentsev guides Korean and Chinese tourists through the shadowy reaches of Andeok Valley. Princess Small is seen dancing along the shores at Yeongmori while Peter Demarco reclines on a coach with elderly Korean women in Seogwipo. In every photograph, Kim displays a unique talent for finding the subject’s unique character and capturing it with subtlety and grace.

The exhibition ran at the Kumho Museum of Art in Seoul last June, and was showing at the artist village in Jeoji on the southwestern side of the island. The Hamel’s Boat photo book costs 40,000 won and can be purchased directly from Kim Oksun. She can be contacted at oxonkim@hotmail.com

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