Taken near Gwangju station, the photo above shows a sight still common in the older parts of town. Actually, one can see similar scenes in many larger towns and cities across the peninsula. However, it is rare to see the available space covered as much this as entrance-way. Here, we can see not only the ubiquitous family photos, posed to perfection, but also the near-silhouette of a dancer overlooking those below. Her presence brings a bit of visual and thematic variation, thus making it slightly harder to wax-philosophic about the role of photography in promoting familial ties. However, we can still see the crafting of a visual identity for those pictured within picture. Their posture and expressions seem standardized, yet subtle variations in dress and arrangement belay the times when the images were taken. As such, when passing by images like these, we feel both a sense of intimacy as well as estrangement.
When living abroad, such family portraits remind us of what we are likely missing back home. However, in this particular case, I find the commonness with which these pictures can be found in public places both odd and reassuring. Personal mementos made bare to the world, they can seem out of place within a society obsessed with privacy. However, these photos also exist as pure presentation. They show the family, with their best face put forward. In that sense, they exist as a two-dimensional extension of how people wish to be seen outside these frames. When on the street in this visually-sensitive society, presentation of the self, and this self in relation to family is key. As such, these photos seem not as strange as previously thought. While publicly displayed, they aire no dirty laundry, and potentially strengthen the societal norms which they themselves are an extension of.
If you have been following the photo blog for some time, you likely know how the role of images, both public and private have served as a consistent theme of visual culture study within the Gwangju area. However, it is only on those rare days when the discussion of these images both remind the international photographer of the home he or she has left behind. Perhaps that is enough.
[Photo taken with a Nikon FE2 with a 50mm f1.4 lens and shooting Kodak Tri-x 400.]
(Photo & Text by Marty Miller)