The Korea Herald


Bowing photography exhibition looks at mechanics of tradition

By Korea Herald

Published : May 20, 2014 - 21:04

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Westerners face a lot of unfamiliar forms of etiquette when they come to Korea, but the most familiar, and perhaps the hardest to get used to, is the subject of a new exhibition in Gwangju.

Martyn Thompson’s collection of photographs and sculptures looks at the Korean bow, depicting it in stages to expose the details of the action.

The photographs show figures performing traditional full bows in stages, each stage superimposed on top of the others. The overall effect gives the impression of a mechanical device carrying out a repetitive action.

Thompsons said that the repetition was an important part of the art. 
“Martyn” (Martyn Thompson) “Martyn” (Martyn Thompson)

“This is a very personal project,” he said. “When I married my wife and met her family, I practiced doing the bow several times over. I didn’t want to stand out even more by doing something wrong when I met her family the first time. This is shown by repetitive action.”

Some of the paintings are of nudes, reflecting the naked feeling he had when in front of his new in-laws. But he said that he thought some Koreans might feel similarly.

“A lot of Koreans forget ― do they put the left hand on top or their right hand on top? Which knee has to bend first?” said Thompson. “It was funny because for young Koreans it was me teaching them how to do the bow, which was quite strange in a way.”

Conversely, the others are in traditional garments, and there is a deliberate contrast in appearance between the traditional activity and clothes and the modernity of the presentation.

“Korea has this cultural imbalance with their present and their past. They are very proud of their cultural heritage and their history, yet they want everything to progress so fast that the traditions are the ones that get left behind.”

Two sculptures are also being shown at the exhibition. Although they don’t show different stages of the bow, they are formed of flat cross-sectional layers that have been painted and separated by magnets, the repeated sections echoing the character of the photographs and giving them a dynamic feel.

The “Korean Bow Collection 2014” exhibition runs at Gwangju’s PDG Gallery until June 7.

By Paul Kerry (