Filmmaker Park Chan-wook's quest to seek hidden beauty through photography

Asia's Tech News Daily

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook's quest to seek hidden beauty through photography

“Face 16” (2013) by Park Chan-wook / Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery

By Park Han-sol

BUSAN ― During an evening walk in Morocco in 2013, filmmaker Park Chan-wook came across a cluster of white parasols in a hotel restaurant, waiting silently for the next batch of customers with a ghostly presence.

“I felt like I could almost hear their murmurs and whispers when the night fell,” he said. This chance encounter was enough of a reason for him to stop everything else, take out a camera and immortalize that moment in a still frame.

Titled “Face 16,” the piece is one of many photographic works created over two decades by the film director, who is known for cinematic masterpieces like “Oldboy” (2003), “Lady Vengeance” (2005) and “The Handmaiden” (2016), and are now on display at his first solo exhibition at Kukje Gallery Busan.

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook's quest to seek hidden beauty through photography

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook at his first solo gallery exhibition, “Your Faces,” devoted to his photographic works / Courtesy of Kukje Gallery

Inside the gallery, not far from the parasol piece stands “Face 205,” with another curious story to tell. Park turned his eyes to a small basket of fruit laid gently out on a street in Bali, Indonesia, as an offering to the gods. Blackened spots cover a piece of an apple, but an up-close view reveals that these spots are in fact a swarm of ants feasting.

“You can either see the creatures as the visual manifestation of god or as good-for-nothing pests snatching away the sacred offering. It’s really up to the viewer,” he said, adding that the contrast between the black-and-white background and the vibrant color of the fruit “reminds him of his own film’s characteristic look.”

As an artist who has favored both moving and still images for years, he admits that there can’t be a line drawn to completely separate the two worlds. He never goes anywhere without a camera in his hand, not only at film sets and during location scouts, but also during overseas trips, at his office and even at home.

In addition to the movie releases, he has also continually participated in small-scale or group exhibitions of his photographic works ― including at the “Park Chan-wook Theater” at CGV Yongsan and at the Asia Culture Center in Gwangju with his artist brother, Park Chan-kyong, with whom he makes up the duo called “PARKing CHANce.”

But that doesn’t mean the two mediums are one and the same to Park. While hours of contemplation and calculative decisions dominate his cinematic works, his photography is born from intuition and accidental meetings with objects during his wanderings in different parts of the world, while loud music from headphones fills his ears.

Moreover, the fact that movies are collaborative projects requiring constant interaction with other people has exhausted ― and still exhausts ― Park, who sees himself as a lone wolf. And of course, there’s the pressure coming from spending billions of won of other people’s money for each project that keeps him up at night.

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook's quest to seek hidden beauty through photography

“Face 106” (2016) by Park Chan-wook / Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook's quest to seek hidden beauty through photography

“Washington, D.C.” (2013) by Park Chan-wook / Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery

“Meanwhile, I have free rein in photography,” he said, smiling. “Every responsibility lies solely on me, and I don’t waste anyone else’s time or money ― just my own.”

“And I think photos, which inherently have much more temporal and spatial limits compared to films, paradoxically offer more chances to exercise your imagination.”

While the main focus of his films has been humans and their emotional turmoils, in the world of photography, he steers away from anthropocentric tendencies and turns his attention to the non-living objects and landscapes seen in everyday life.

“I want to capture the moment of my private, a one-on-one conversation with an object. And in that process, I see their own life force, characters and facial expressions different from those of humans.”

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook's quest to seek hidden beauty through photography

“Face 45” (2015) by Park Chan-wook / Courtesy of the artist and Kukje Gallery

The gallery is filled with shots of a nameless stone mountain reminiscent of a menacing creature located by the seas of Bali; a curious-looking mannequin gently placed in the passenger seat of someone’s car instead of in a trunk; a single pillar that serves no particular function in a small Catholic church in Rome; drooling gas pumps at an abandoned gas station in Spain; and a random raincoat being dried near the Iguazu Falls in Argentina.

Whether the subject is an easily forgettable item or an abandoned building, he captures everything as if shooting a portrait, transforming it into the hero of a new narrative.

But there’s one thing that exists in common between Park’s motion and still pictures ― his effort to explore and expand the idea of beauty.

“Just like how The Handmaiden seeks to capture beauty hidden deep beneath the ugly, hideous world of men, the point of my photos is to discover and appreciate such quality in an object that seemingly has none.”

Filmmaker Park Chan-wook's quest to seek hidden beauty through photography

Installation view of the “Your Faces” exhibition at Kukje Gallery Busan / Courtesy of Kukje Gallery

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