Lingering in Time: Koo Bohnchang’s Photography (1990-2021)

4 September - 14 November 2021 Beijing


Three Shadows Photography Art Centre is proud to present "Lingering in Time: Koo Bohnchang's Photography (1990-2021)." The exhibition is noted Korean photographer Koo Bohnchang's first solo show in China. Starting with In the Beginning, the exhibition presents thirteen important series created over the last thirty years, including Mask, Breath, Vessel, and Gold.


Koo Bohnchang has long been active in the South Korean contemporary photography scene as a photographer and curator. His transition from a business administration degree to a photography practice was quite natural. After he quit his job at a large corporation, he traveled to Germany to study. There, the restraint, sensitivity, and refinement that had been buried deep within him from a young age found its match in photography. After deviating from his family's expectations and immersing himself in the uncertainty of an artistic career, Koo's early work was imbued with the struggle and suffering of every decision when it was made-the longing for touch and the emptiness of looking back.


The 1990s were a turning point in his life and work. After his father's breath and spirit slowly left him, Koo's gaze turned to spaces of absence, and his thinking shifted away from the pursuit of weighty individual meaning and toward insignificant yet eternal presences. In his later work, he has explored the uncertainty of fate in our lives and how living and non-living things decay and fade away. Burning photo paper and masks from traditional ceremonies have become mediums between the earthly and spiritual realms. Koo Bohnchang is a collector of vestiges of time. He places dissolving bars of soap, ancient porcelain, and dust on walls into voids without color, light, or shadow; they linger in the labyrinth of the vanishing and the eternal.


This exhibition is supported by South Korea's Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism, the Korean Arts Management Service, and the Fund for Korean Art Abroad. The Jinsha Site Museum in Chengdu has also provided licensing support.




Capturing the Invisible Is Why I Love Taking Photographs: Koo Bohnchang's Photography


Gu Zheng


Born in 1953, the South Korean photographer Koo Bohnchang did not study photography initially. After he received his degree in business administration from Yonsei University, he worked in a large company, but he decided to resign after just six months. In 1980, he went to study photography in Hamburg, a city in pre-unification West Germany. As a member of one of the first generations of Koreans to study photography abroad, Koo received rigorous training at the Fachhochschule Hamburg Fachbereich Gestaltung. Since he finished his studies and returned to South Korea, he has been active on the front lines of Korean photography, both making art and teaching. He has also frequently appeared at contemporary photography events around the world, making an invaluable contribution to the international reputation of Korean contemporary photography.


Koo Bohnchang's photographs are underpinned by the sensibility and aesthetics of Korean culture, and he works to pursue a Korean cultural identity. He actively uses photography as a method for visualizing cultural identity, and his body of work has had an immense international influence. When he returned to South Korea in 1985, Korean contemporary photography was dominated by the documentary and salon genres; the medium was seldom used for artistic expression. With consistent effort, he was able to use unique concepts and methods to create space for his own work, establish a firm position for himself, and foster an environment for photography as artistic expression in South Korea. Koo is now an internationally influential artist representing Korean contemporary photography, and he has continued to play an important role in the development of that scene. 


Like many who have received formal photography training, Koo Bohnchang began with street photography. With a disciplined eye, he explored the characteristics of photography as a medium. He has a keen formal sensibility. By capturing reality thoughtfully, he developed his own rigorous sense of form and tried to uncover the beauty of ordinary surprises in common occurrences.


The pictures from Portraits of Time that are exhibited here have their own pictorial beauty. The works can also present an intertwined interrelationship by being carefully arranged in different contexts, such as a book or an exhibition. In this way, he offers his philosophical ideas about life and death, the eternal and the fleeting. In contrast, Breath, inspired by his father's death, uses rich visual metaphors to present Koo's thoughts about life and death.


Koo Bohnchang has a special interest in objects. The various objects that enter his gaze are related to his personal memories and to the collective memory of the Korean people. Some even meet both of his needs for cultural memory and identity. His Vessel series may be the most well-known of his object photographs; the series is widely considered some of his most important work, as such, it has won him international acclaim. The Gold series exhibited here runs contrary to the simplicity of Vessel, highlighting the brilliance of these objects with dramatic lighting and showing the glory of Korean culture. Both series are essentially the visual presentation and affirmation of cultural identity. Mask is another familiar series. The masks worn in folk ceremonies have an indescribable mystery. They abstract and generalize human attributes, but they also reflect a people's conception of life and death. Because of the cover they provide, masks block off the outside world, but the wearers are made more attractive by that concealment.


Koo Bohnchang once said, "Capturing the invisible is why I love taking photographs." Vessel and Mask are long-standing explorations that convey the richness of the culture that sits behind those porcelain surfaces and masks.