Tokyo, 1989
The Accumulation of Time, The Skeleton of Landscape
Sung, WanKyung, 1998

It was last spring as I prepared for the Power section of the 1997 Kwangju Biennale that I was introduced to Park, HongChun’ photographs. The photos were taken in artificial Disneyland-style amusement parks such as Seoulland and Everland in 1994. Park said that they had been exhibited at his first solo exhibition (titled To Alice) at the Hanmadang Gallery in the same year. From first sight, I was deeply impressed by his profound and exceptional photos; they have qualities that stem only from slow, discreet and committed work. At the same time, I was also aware of the perspective being attainable only through a kind of clear disposition or choice. Above all, I was impressed with the chromatics in his work. Later, after seeing his photographs of 1989 Tokyo, I saw again that his colors result not from the technique of extended exposure―allowing a tiny stream of light through a black filter―but from his unhurried patience and extraordinary eye.

Most of his pictures were taken with an extremely long exposure using a thick black filter that did not affect the colors of the image. One shot could require 30 minutes to 1 hour depending on the situation, which would impair the normal rendering of each color on the film. As a result, he produced these photographs with heavy colors. Some photos took him over the course of a full day. During this extended exposure, moving objects were not recorded or only their overlapped images appeared, and the stationary elements existed in delicate, heavy and deep tones.

“…Objects moving are not impressed. The Boulevard, so constantly filled with a moving throng of pedestrians and carriages, was perfectly solitary, except an individual who was having his boots brushed. His feet were compelled, of course, to be stationary for some time, one being on the box of the boot black, and the other on the ground. Consequently, his boots and legs were well defined, but he is without body or head, because these were in motion.”

Park’s photography reminds me of this remark by Samuel Morse, an American artist and inventor, about a photograph of a Paris street taken using the daguerreotype process 160 years ago. In the picture, people do not appear or only obscure parts of them hang in the air like a new moon at midday. In photographs of crowded amusement parks, the myriad amorphous movements of people leave only vague traces along the ground, like low clouds of filthy dust or smog.

The earliest daguerreotype process disappointed people who expected lifelike portraits because of its unsolved defect, the extremely long exposure, which eventually led to the drop in popularity of the daguerreotype. Consequently, struggles regarding the early photographic process focused on the reduction of exposure time. In this sense, Park, HongChun’s photography, in which the human presence and liveliness in snapshots are not captured due to the deliberately long exposure, has characteristics of retrogression. However, this retrogression allows Park to impart an enchanting depth and weightiness in his work.

Park’s photos are not an art of rapidity and moment, but an art of slowness and endurance. Just as the portraits by Nadar or Carjat in the mid-nineteenth century illustrated the profound inner feelings of the people owing to the long exposure, Park, HongChun adds deep internality to landscapes by employing the tactics of slowness and endurance. To be more precise, he captures the aura of death in landscapes or, rather, covers landscapes with the aura of death. He turns landscapes into ghosts. This is accomplished by the peculiar colors created from the gradual accumulation of the tiny amounts of restricted light. As time goes by, the chromatics become heavier and more intricate, which conveys a psychological, but non-realistic, mood. In addition, an atmosphere of gloom and depression similar to a cemetery is created by the absence of people. Park, HongChun’ photography covers the visible present with this translucent film of death. It portrays the suffocated landscape sinking into the rarefied air as well as the apocalyptic nature of time. The present drifts into different times, as if in science fiction, and looks peculiar. The desolate landscape of empty artifacts in which the traces of all moving things, including people, vanish due to the long exposure is just stark enough to convey that feeling.


The atmosphere reflected in photos of amusement facilities such as Seoulland and Everland makes it easier for the viewer to smell the death and ruin lingering in the landscape. In a manner of speaking, Park, HongChun portrays the structure of death and skeletons in landscapes using this device of visibility, which enables him to control the duration of time.

A critical perspective toward civilization and time in science fiction is not completely separate from religious and transcendent time. Photography is closely related to death. It is not only an art of light, but an art of its extinction. In addition, it is not only an art that depends on the presence of objects, but an art that depends on the death of those objects. The power of photography is subordinate to the disappearance and death of objects (in other words, the merciless power of time). Photography is a perfect language for meditations on the nature of presence and time as well as a mourning form of death.

Park has said, “I had the opportunity to think deeply about death when I was in Australia. Although it was directly evoked by the death of my friend, the matter of death has been the subject of intense interest since an early stage. I sometimes hear that my photographs are too beautiful aesthetically. However, I think that they reflect universal and serious subjects like death. Death is an important matter, but it could be not necessarily serious but alluring.”

Park, HongChun stayed in Australia for 16 months starting in 1996. Photographs taken at that time were exhibited in a solo exhibition at the Samtuh Gallery during the 1997 Kwangju Biennale. These photos are of a sky that fills almost the whole square screen, with the sea hanging heavy and low in the sky and changing from greenish blue to brown, greenish gray and leaden; it looks like a dreamscape. Sometimes, empty benches, walkways or plants appear in the corner of the screen. In addition, vague traces of people may haunt the screen.

The sea has long been a symbol of memory and time and, in literature, it has alluded to the feminine since the epics of Homer. Park, HongChun said that he directed his camera toward the sea thinking of his mother, who had passed away 10 years earlier but whose death had not been fully realized. As he said, was it to trace his prenatal memory as his mother’s presence was gradually fading?

The traces of time that Park, HongChun accumulates are not limited by using only the camera fixed on a tripod. The photographs entered in the Front DMZ exhibition in 1993 were taken by fixing his camera in the front of his car and driving along a two-lane highway for 30 minutes. The tracks of lanes running parallel to each other and the traces of cars passing his are dimly and vaguely accumulated in the screen by this still-camera action, which is similar to the video action of conceptual artists. Through this conceptual use of the camera―a metaphor for the reality of the divided country―we can see that Park’s works are not just beautiful photographs aesthetically, but they also reveal a keenly realistic perspective and a conceptual thinking that allows him to see beyond the surface of reality.

After the collapse of the Sampoong department store, I still often see the ominous ghosts of the bureaucratic language used for construction billboards―“the construction with soul”―on the walls of the construction sites on the street. To me, this language means that the construction was mixed with human souls and death, evoking in me images of hairs adhering to cement and bloodstains. However, has there been one single photograph which is not about scenes of death since surrealists read the stillness of a criminal scene in Atget’s photograph of the empty street of Paris? Hong-chun Park’s mesmerizing photography reminds us of the power of death in visible structures because of the stillness of time in which even a hair disappears. It is as silent as religion.


Sung, WanKyung' essay was published in The Monthly Art Magazine WolGanMiSool, Aug. 1998

He is an art critic and curator based in Seoul, and is currentely an honorary professor at InHa University. He was the commissioner (1995 and 1997) and the artistic director (2002) of the Gwangju Biennale.