BOOK LIVES: JongKeun Park: Ilwoo Photography Prize Winner

In 2015, I was privileged to be invited to co-edit a book for JongKeun Park, winner of the 5th Ilwoo Photography Prize. Under the guidance of Dr Shin Suejin, South Korea’s foremost curator and writer in photography, three individuals with different backgrounds – Lee Hongchun, professor at Keio University and an expert on internet election campaigns, the media and political relationship of Japan and South Korea; Karen McQuaid, curator at The Photographers’ Gallery, London, and myself – edited the extensive body of works by Park. None of us knew what the other had chosen or written until the final publication, allowing three different interpretations to be presented. This is my contribution.

It’s a dark and stormy night.
But quiet otherwise.

Sitting across from me, at a table about 7ft away, is a sneaky man with a strange hat. He notices me, as I too, have made a mental note about him, the very minute I walk in. The way he surveys the room, the way he is looking for something, the way he wants to be alone and not too alone, reminds me of myself.

It is like a brewing duel in a bad Western movie, where two fools believe they are heroes, and both waiting to draw their weapons.

The broody man motions for the waiter to bring him another beer. That would be his third for the night. He checks his phone periodically, with a look of anxiety that I have become familiar with. And then without any warning, he lifts his camera and fires off three shots. And I will do the same.

But not at each other.

We look into the same direction, as the woman with the red scarf disappears into the darkness. We nod quietly at each other, and lift our glass slightly, knowingly.

I’ve never met JongKeun Park, but I have been imagining, after having ‘met’ him through his images, that this is how our meeting will be. I’ve gotten a sense that that I will like him, or at least we will have a strange connection. Or at least, I think I seem to know a little about him.

I imagine Joke Park to be a man torn by two extremes.

On one end, a professional hired gun with the responsibility to represent the worldly events through the conventional visual cues.

On the other, a passionate artist, probably half intoxicated 90% of the time, with a desire to feel.

As a member of the journalism profession, Joke excels and is respected by his peers and competitors alike for his tenacity, for his creativity, for his resourcefulness. They are everything that we’ve come to expect someone who sets high standards for himself. And let’s not forget that.

But neither should we assume that because he is good in his paid job, he can’t be allowed to have an opinion about things.

In fact, Joke is opinionated, and very clever in infusing some of those personal views in his ‘official’ reportage.
I am, in many ways, envious of him. And I feel as if we have been set on a collision course, waiting for the eventual clash.

Joke is a to me a composer and a writer. He is taking notes, researching and readying himself for the bigger task ahead.

He knows that.

Joke is a filmmaker and it is in his personal works that he feels totally unafraid to be misunderstood. And he probably won’t be too happy to be understood, if the person who does is not the right person.

The ‘feature film’ he is ‘making’, knowingly and unknowingly, is one made up of what he is only supposed to experience from afar as a newspaperman. And if he has been passionate about the people he photographs in the course of work, that is just him being a human being.

So in the course of his official duty, he is chipping off fragments of history for his own narrative.

Perhaps, having covered so many worldly events, his overall view of the world is a dim one.

The drab landscapes he encounters in the woods are both his opening scenes as well as his interludes. The lonely figures he preys on the commuter buses are the characters he plans to introduce in his magnum opus.
But the private world that Joke lives in is not a linear one.

Some things repeat and go in circles.

There is no black and white, neither black or white.

He is in many of his pictures.

Be careful.