Like a photographic artist who moves slowly for his ultimate photograph, I thought how great it would be to have a camera in my head, a camera of insanity, to capture all the scenes. If so, that in itself would be an epic.
— Jack Kerouac, On the Road to Florida with Robert Frank, 1958.
How do photographers see the world? Through the camera? No. They first look at the world with their bare eyes. Then they pick up their cameras and look at it through the view finder. After that, of course, they press the shutter. They could press it a second time, but anyway, a single photograph is taken. This is also the case with Yum Jung-Ho. He photographs what he has seen, and picks his works to be exhibited, as everyone does.
The world seen by Yum covers geographic areas from Korea to Europe. The distances are far and the areas vast, but the photographs themselves show few differences. Yum’s photographs do not specially focus on the differences of spaces or cultural differences. They rather avoid the images that represent Europe or Korea. Unless special attention is given, his photographs seem not to indicate specific places. Korea looks like Europe and Europe looks like part of Korea. Of course part of the reason for this is that there are formal consistencies or similarities. His photographs seem to flee from the strict and full compositions and the almost unnecessary depiction of details often seen in recent large-scale photographs. Perhaps Yum Joongho also pressed the shutter while he fled, walking or running. He makes the captured objects speak on their own. Meanwhile, Yum’s photographs hide cultural and geographical differences between different continents. Actually he does not try to hide them. Nevertheless, the two landscapes, or the two subjects resemble each other. No, they are made to resemble each other. Of course, making them resemble each other is not the objective. His photographs talk about the state and situation of objects, and ultimately, the perspective of the artist who saw them. He is in the outskirts. At the outskirts of the world, he sees as he holds his camera. He looks into the coincidental structures with almost complete detachment. He looks at them af if he were grazing against them, as if he were not there.
Due to the poetic atmosphere that comes from the colors and the brightness of his photographs, they look beautiful. But as Victor Burgin said, "Looking at a photograph for a long period of time causes conflict. The image, which first gave pleasure, gradually turns into a veil that prevents us from seeing what is hiding beneath." This is also the case with Yum Joongho’s photographs. The more we look into them, the more we see the wounds engraved inside them. In some cases the wounds are revealed directly, as in cut-off tree stumps, uprooted trees or rotting fruits in the grass. But most of the photographs literally become veils. The electric outlet on the white background, the robot-like garbage truck, the trash bag that resembles a giant condom, the snorkeling equipment hanging on the wall, etc., are beautiful. But they are all a certain kind of veil. The veil makes us think about what is beyond the objects and the surface of the photographs revealing such objects. We know, of course, that beyond the surface of the photograph there is reality, and the system that created the photographic image. Whatever it is called, we feel a faint pain. It is because we cannot do anything about the reality and the system. Since the pain is a fundamental thing that is revealed through objects, it continuously makes us feel uncomfortable. Because of the uncomfortable images, our gaze goes from one photograph to another as it shakes lightly. As the eyes travel on, we realize that the images, broken on account of the fragmental aspect of the photograph, are connecting among one another.
Victor Burgin also said, "It is not a coincidence that photographs are displayed so that they cannot be seen for a length of time. We treat photographs in a way of glancing by, depending on how much we know. (When an employee of a national art museum used a stopwatch to measure the time spectators spent looking at a single work, he found out that they took an average of 10 seconds―just like the standard length of a scene in a Hollywood film.)" During those 10 seconds, we look at the photographs, connect them, and try to create a narrative structure. Yum’s photographs do not have a definite narrative structure. They rather repeat separate short pieces. As they are repeated, differences are generated. As the differences and repetitions are repeated the boundaries between the photographs are erased. To say it in the way of Derrida, differrance, of which the ends cannot be seen, are created continuously between the images. Thus, his photographs do not explain or indicate the world, but make it boundless. Yum Joongho stands behind the camera as if he does not know how to read the world. This combines with calculated spectatorial perspective to create the detached attitude. Definitely it is a strategy. The strategical detachment, and the composition method that looks like the photographs were just taken of coincidentally encountered objects makes us ask ourselves what was the photograph, and what is the photograph.
To quote from Levi-Strauss, the photograph resembles the way primitive people think―science of the concrete. He says science of the concrete is mythological thinking, and mythological thinking is positioned in between percept and concept, while being tied to the image. Though it only appears to us in the form of the image, it has the capability to generalize, and therefore can be scientific in its own way. According to this logic, since a photograph is an image, it is between percept and concept, and is part of mythological thought. The point between percept and concept is a state prior to abstraction. Therefore photographs are concrete. Of course, concreteness is a characteristic of the photograph, which has long been pointed out. Sometimes it is mentioned in relation with the details or expression methods of the photograph, but actually, the concrete nature of the photograph does not mean how similar it is to an object, or how formal depiction is achieved. Those are side issues, and the more important issue is the method of approaching objects and subjects, in other words, it is an issue of perspective. In the context of Levi-Strauss, the concreteness of photographs is decided according to the perspective of the photographer―what is worthy of documentation, and what is worthy of seeing and reconsidering. This is similar to the way indigenous people in various parts of the world have quite accurate knowledge about plants, but still taste, smell and observe new plants. Like the indigenous tribes, Yum Joongho observes the unnoted concreteness in different continents with his camera. This results in categorization, like the science of the concrete. Of course the categories are not those of science, but those of the bricolage.
It is a known fact that bricolages do not undergo precise planning or a strict production process. Something is made in an easy way, using objects easily obtainable from one’s surroundings, and given tools. And the original objects are transformed and put into a new category. This is also how Yum’s photographs work. The subjects he takes and makes into images are categorized, crossing over region and time. What can we call such boundaries? What was he trying to say through them?
A photograph is a metonymy of the world. Yum Joongho uses unintentional bricolages created by trivial objects to show the world. Therefore, Yum’s photographs are a dual bricolage. They are dual in the sense that the primarily and coincidentally bricolaged world is made into images with the same attitude. In the process, the effect is also amplified. The world of photography taken by Yum Joongho is chaotic and full of spontaneity. Weeds grow under a parked car, a boxing match takes place like a show in a plaza, the glistening silver-decorated knife is stuck in a pear cut in half. And as I said earlier, this bricolage, the world that produced the metonymy, is silent. The world with a veil cannot be unveiled no matter how much it is photographed. All one can do is document the brief shaking of the veil.
Someone once said, "Science cannot tolerate disorder. It does not matter whether it is natural or cultural science. Scientists endure uncertainty and despair. That is because they cannot do anything about it. But one thing they cannot and must not endure is disorder. The effort to get rid of disorder began unconsciously from a low dimension along with the origin of life." But photography is not science, and therefore does not bestow order on the world. No matter how formally the images in the frames are organized, that is not order. That order is just the form of the images, and not the order of the world. Even if they are put on the wall in an exhibition space, the result is the same. The photographs hanging on the visually sanitized white wall are just well-organized images. They are not the order of the world.
The same thing can be said about Yum Joongho’s works. Standing, or walking with the camera, he sees the coincidence, or the wirepuller of the coincidence, created by the disorder. He probably enjoys it. In order to capture the fragments faintly in the photograph… No, the photographer just responds to the images with his camera. And he tosses the ball to the spectators, concerning how to read it or how to respond and interpret it. Whether it takes one second or ten seconds to see and interpret the photograph, he does not care. The photographer merely holds his camera and documents the fragments of the concrete world instantly.
Text excerpted from ONE AND J. Gallery catalogue essay by Kang Hongkoo