In this photo, we can see an interesting representation of what was. It shows a house, a classic ju-tek design made popular in the 1970s. Amid this Korean modernist architectural style shown in the photo within a photo, we can see a tree shading the second story building with a walled exterior compound. It is unclear exactly how long this image has been plastered on the newer building. However, what is of value in this scene is the juxtaposition of both architectural styles, and what the act of remembering a differing style of ‘home’ could mean to those who put it there.
This image was taken in a newly revitalized neighborhood in downtown Gunsan. Adjacent to an old marina, this area of smaller shops and two-story homes has become trendy in recent years. This town has seemed to be ahead of the curve regarding the value it places on preserving its architectural past. Whereas many other cities have moved to demolish such neighborhoods in favor of the ubiquitous high-rise apartments seen elsewhere on the peninsula, there is instead a sensitivity to these buildings which remain. Yes, they have become Disney-fied to a large degree, full of exorbitantly priced coffee and hamburger joints. However, if this visual past has been successfully recommodified to suit the needs of an emerging upper-middle-class who tire of the norm, it opens up deeper questions regarding what role the visual plays in telling local residents who they are within such a place. For example, does the significance of this re-imaging of the neighborhood lay in the memories of those who knew this place as it used to be? Or, does it become significant only when experienced in its newly represented state?
Viewing this image has reminded me personally of the power possessed by images of the past. Given the context of their display, images like the one within the image above are pawns in the hands of those who re-present them. For example, the sun breaking through the clouds reflected in the windows to the modern building to the left may hint at the emotions that I, as the photographer, hoped to imbibe within the scene. A mixture of nostalgic curiousity and unexpected confusion greeted me on this day in downtown Gunsan. However, the eyes of new viewers may allow entirely different emotions. So goes the artistic nature of photography; a release into the unknown for eyes which view the world differently than our own. It is a contemporary moment, linking what was within a process of inevitable transformation.
[Photo taken with an Olympus 35sp shooting an expired roll of Kodak Ektachrome 200.]
(Image & Text by Marty Miller)