The Power of Facts
At a situation where digital cameras and camera phones have become necessities, Cyworld and blogs have become the most spot-lighted media, and photoshop and illust have become the basic grammar of imaging, the simple straight photographs of Oksun Kim look rather classic. Also, it can be said that at a time when photographs are becoming ever more spectacle and printing and framing methods are becoming ever more diversified, Kim was still being true to the characteristics of photography rather than those of art in terms of photographic scale and media understanding methods. On the other hand, in the context where nude photos have become natural in every day life, international marriages and homosexuality have become the cultural issue, and mixed race is emerging as the new cultural agenda, it looks as though Kim's "bare body" pictures and her photo series on international marriages are photo works that fit into the frame of contemporary problems.
Where does such photo style of Oksun Kim base itself on? First of all, Kim's photography doesn't start off from any other media, but a consistent "fact-composed" setting, which is only possible in photographs. The problem is how these facts are composed. Kim usually integrates the method of capturing the facts "just as they are in reality" to express herself. However, as long as a photographer exists, showing the subjects just as they are in reality is almost impossible. Therefore, it could be more effective to start off by eliminating photographic exaggeration and artificiality than to incidentally or instantly capture the subjects in an effort to pursuit an obvious objectivity. Possibly, for these reasons, Kim's photographs carefully exclude all of the features that the society explicitly and implicitly agree upon as methods to photo decoration including physical expressions such as smiley faces and tensed bodies, spacial index such as developed garments and clean and organized interior, and finally values such as happiness and love.
Instead, a feature that is emphasized is the person's stare itself, which is looking directly to the front. Of course, this stare that looks directly to the camera lens executes wondrous functions as it meets that of the photographer behind the camera and also to that of our physical eyes, looking at the finished photograph. The women in the pictures are naturally staring straight ahead as they show their bare bodies in front of the camera, Korean women are looking straight forward with their foreign husbands in the background, and Asians are looking directly at the camera with their Western partners out of focus; and, each one of their stares seem to be telling a unique story. However, after examining these pictures for a while, it seems that the artist is building a particular photographic structure through the individuals instead of the individual contents of the stories. The accumulation of the photo archive of repeated poses, equipment, and stare arrangement has an effect of weakening the uniqueness of the individuals and show a structural similarity.
The dramatic presentation, often used in contemporary photographic works, is also evident in the photographs taken by Oksun Kim; however, the big difference is that in Kim's photographs, it is implemented passively. Here, the dramatic space is far different from a situation that is unexpected, just prior to a burst of urgent happenings, or full of secrets and lies. Instead, the dramatic index is pressed upon the surface of the photographs; and, here, extremely common everyday lifestyles just repeat themselves tediously. Then, the individual stares of the subjects seize the entire screen just like a vanishing point in perspective, and takes on the method of calling the observing eyes into the core. Just as our eyes meet these eyes, some kind of connection and a region of resistance suddenly appears like a spark whether we want it or not.
Of course, it will be correct to interpret that this kind of calling is not directed to the overall system that constitutes the identity of things such as gender, family and nation, but it is moving in metaphoric level, looking at the constitution of such identity at an angle. Calm, provocative, and open stares and postures of the women who are showing the surgery marks and saggy skin daringly break the old voyeuristic visual perception method and conventions of nudity(<Woman in a room>). Also, the subtle volume in which the women's fatigue and stability, both typical to Korean housewives, cross over is in contrast with the absolutely leveled appearance of the foreign husband. At the same time, it nullifies the fantasy, curiosity, and prejudice about international marriages(<Happy Together>). However, the effect of unique postures posed by each of the couples, showing compositions with various racial, sexual, and age groups, is that it dismantles the unified agreement on family order(<You & I>).
Particularly, the realistic setting of places in which the photographs are taken develops the characteristic of her photographic style in two ways. Unlike the work spaces such as job sites and offices, a room and a house is normally represented as a private and confidential space where an individual or his/her family can take a rest. However, Kim's camera carefully trespasses into this private space and convinces the space to be a work area. This method may look similar to the housewife-targeted house touring programs that show the homes of celebrities. However, just like the personal lives of celebrities, the interior of their houses, as shown in these programs, is equal to a twisted exterior. The envy of the "general public" toward their fame functions as an exchanging value which leads to continuous changing of the interior design of houses and moving of homes. In this perspective, the "sick house syndrome" is just a product of the ideology of showing-off and being full of envy which survives only when it is endlessly exchanged.
However, the rooms captured by Kim's camera have accumulated the method of eliminating the barrier between business and private. If the cameras in a broadcasting studio targets to open the doors of the refrigerator as its last hidden card in showing a private space, Kim's camera does something similar to repeatedly reproducing the refrigerator frame to give an effect that crosses the differences and similarities. As it is directly shown in the <Living room> series, when some interior designs, furniture, decorations, and clothing in an identically structured houses project different resemblance, the only feature that distinguishes the house is the "similarity of the families" itself. Inside the houses that are similar but not quite, the shreds and vulgar of every day life is portrayed in the repeated patterns in curtains and wallpapers, and the desires of the post-modern ego trying to escape from settlement and inertia are reificated with furniture and various equipment. Therefore, home is neither a "home sweet home", nor "my happy home", and it is definitely not a "private room just for myself". Home has changed from a space where one can enjoy personal hobbies and a bedroom where one can relieve stress to an aggressive battle field where individual subjects constantly resist, negotiate, struggle, and compromise against the family order.
Every one of Oksun Kim's photograph series including <Women in a room>, <Living room>, <Happy together>, and <You & I>, all have consistently repeated equipment, objects, or subject matters. From this view, Kim's photograph archive has a property worthy of documentation and preservation. Also, it accumulates systematic substitutes and forms an integrated network. Particularly, a characteristic of such network is that these pictures ultimately aim at the world out of the photographic frame. At times, the subjects in her photographs are seen out of the frame. This type of set up expands our appreciation in a direction that confirms some kind of shared emotion by creating an interest in the lives of the individuals inside the photographs. Similar to a well-written anthropological report, Kim's photographs do not try to contain us in a reproduced space, but it makes us go beyond the spacial cognition and pursuit a wider context of the life, in which the space is based on.
In this perspective, it is very important that Oksun Kim's picture accumulates various information in and out of the photographic frame with critical research, consistent efforts to make the arrangements, and long-term process of mutual understanding as its basis. The reason why this is so important is because it not only attracts our eyes beyond the space of the photographic frame, but it also makes us pay attention beyond the timeline to the "hereafter" of the photograph. Presumably, as one goes through Kim's photographic process, photographs such as <Eunmi in front of the pink curtain>, <Sooyeon and Dean>, and <Hiroki and Ken> does not just remain as subjects of a photograph; but, instead, one may experience a moment of self-reflection and healing of inner pain and memories. This will be true for the photographer, and it can be assumed that it will also have a similar effect on the people who react strongly to the photographs. It seems that Kim's photography is based on the old but strong power of photography- "composition of facts" and the awakening of the lives of the people she faced. Such power is the generative power that allows a media called photography to acquire contemporaneousness and move side by side with the changes occurring in the world.
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