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[Herald Interview] Analog photographer Area Park captures natural, personal disasters

Oct. 15, 2022 - 22:17 By Park Ga-young
Installation view of "Mom's Room" by Area Park (Carin Gallery)

Area Park is a stubborn photographer who still uses a huge slide film camera - Linhof Master Technika Classic - in the era of digital photography. He pursues film photography even if it means he has to be very selective and cautious when deciding to press the shutter button. Each shot costs 200,000 won - 250,000 won, taking into consideration film purchase, developing and scanning. Sometimes, he has to visit the same place again to retake photos, spending thousands of dollars.

“I learned to give up and I have had to give up a lot -- like when shooting fast-moving objects or when there is counter light. But once I am ready to take my shot, I’m completely absorbed as if my whole career as a photographer depended on that one perfect image. That means I probably take less than 100 cuts a year,” Park told The Korea Herald during an interview Friday at Sahng-up Gallery in Eulji-ro, Seoul. His exhibition titled “On another Planet” that began on Friday runs concurrently with another exhibition, “Mom’s Room,” taking place at Carin Gallery in Busan. At Carin, his 20 works are displayed along with specific furniture to give off the feeling of a mom’s room.

The two themes, seemingly unrelated at first glance, show where Park’s thoughts linger - the greatness of nature and helplessness of human beings, a lesson we learn from natural disasters like wildfires, earthquakes and tsunamis. Similar to how the COVID-19 pandemic taught us that the world can turn upside down at the flip of a switch.

“We are living in a world that was unimaginable and human beings had seemingly conquered everything with cutting-edge technologies. But all of this can be undone without warning with something as straightforward as a natural disaster,” Park said. “‘On Another Planet’ explores the relationship between the nature and humans.”

More personal disasters can also be earth shattering -- like mom losing her memory due to Alzheimer's disease -- can also upend a person’s life and “Mom’s Room" is a testimony to that.

In the past eight years, Park, who is based in Tokyo, traveled to the US, Mexico, China, Japan and Finland, all places where his mom has been or places she wanted to visit, to show her those places via his lens and to track his mom’s memory and past. His mom has Alzheimer's disease and cannot travel anymore. His photos decorate her nursing home room in Busan. From the comfort of her bed, she can observe the wall-size images of sites she wanted to explore, a token of his care and also a testimony to what could have been.

Area Park's mother sits in her room, with photos Park took in Mexico. (Area Park)
Mexico 2016 (Area Park)

“My camera lens was focused on the outside world, but now it’s zooming in on my family’s problem and personal disaster,” Park said. “We don’t know what will happen tomorrow and life takes us on unexpected paths just as it did with me, someone who used to take documentary photos, am now shooting natural scenery,” Park explained.

Park said although the world is becoming fast and unpredictable, one thing he cannot give up is the film photography that he has been pursuing for more than 30 years.

“When everyone goes digital, fast, high-tech, global, I want to go analog, low-tech and local. I love the chemical process of photography,” Park added.

Area Park at Sahng-up Gallery on Friday (Park Ga-young/The Korea Herald)

Park, 50, spent his 20s and 30s taking photos in cities or during socially significant events and occasions after studying photography in college and graduate school. One of his most notable works are those he took at the sites of the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in Japan.

Park, who has been based in Japan since 2008 after his marriage, went to the areas swept by the tsunami three days after the disaster. His works, which calmly grab the essence of the tragedy without any provocative aspects were introduced at Atelier Hermès in 2012.

“Mom’s Room," which is his first solo exhibition in five years, runs through Oct. 23 at Carin Gallery in Busan. "On Another Planet" takes place until Oct. 30 at Sahng-up Gallery located in Eulji-ro, central Seoul.