Photographer Gapchul Lee is a documentarian with a poetic heart. Using a 28 mm single lens, Lee has obsessively documented Korean Shamanism for nearly 30 years. In modern Korean society today, the rituals’ significance has come to be seen as more theatrical and the shamans as archaic remnants of a bygone era. Forming a solid archive of the vanishing looks of a tradition, however, is not what this diligent photographer has only contributed to our collective memory. Unforgivingly frank and daringly swift, his camera acts rather on instinct and freezes prayers’ moments in its most tense compositions; its out-of-focus foregrounds, its offset angles and, above all, its strangely visceral and beautiful vulnerability. In Lee’s frames, men are at their weakest in seeking the divine. And the original, straight black and white documentation of them is so sympathetic in its gaze as to force silence in our face of ineffability. With deep, gritty humanism that exalts man’s empathy, suffering and emotion at its core, Lee’s ominous and romantic photography finds universality within the proximity of human warmth.
CONFLICT & REACTION
6 NOV, 2009