An era, often more than a period of time, in popular vernacular refers to the tangible within the ephemeral. Today is would not be what it is without those who inhabitable it. And they themselves would not be who there “are” without the sights, sounds, colors, and textures which imbibe them. Despite obvious new construction like the Asia Culture Center, downtown Gwangju at times seems slow to change its outside appearance. Even the aforementioned center was built in an inverted manner, tunneling into the earth rather than towering above it. Perhaps this was done in an effort to preserve a certain visual continuity between landmarks which have slowly yet surely become visual comforters over the years. Whether seen as strength or flaw, the reluctance of neighborhoods to architectural change, such as the one pictured above have been somehow reassuring. Even after long absences, when visiting areas adjacent to downtown, the casual wanderer can rely on visual mainstays to navigate her or his journey. In my many years in and out of Gwangju City, the frame shop above was just such a signpost.
Above the shop name and to the left, “Since 1976” can be seen on the sign. Considering the changes which have swept the country since the late seventies, staying in business as anything but a restaurant for forty years is commendable. After all, how often do you really need to have your favorite landscape painting or calligraphy elaborately framed in shops like the one above? Although unlikely to fully disappear from Korean visual culture, such frames, and the shops that do it to it them are becoming an increasingly rare sight.
The shop above endured a slow decline. In fact, for the past year, it was difficult to find it open for business. Yet, over the past decade, I was fortunate enough to encounter its owners on my regular walks through downtown. As an artist working with found materials, I would often frequent the impromptu dump pile outside its front entrance. Amorphous in shape, and often with more than a hint of mold, it was nevertheless a gold mine for antique bits of glass and frame, as well as the odd ornate hinge or hanging mechanism. In the wintertime, I would often stop to warm my hands over a small fire on the front stoop; the owners convenient solution to all of those discarded wooden frames.
On my last stroll through the neighborhood several weeks ago, I found the shop in its current state. Through the back door, the last few trash bags were being packed. A lone figure piling them up into what had stood since, well, most people now care to remember. In all honesty, I am usually one of them. However, in this case, my hat remains tipped to the frame shop that was, and in all likelihood, the corndog stand to come.
[Image taken with my Contax T2.]
(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)