Thinking about life through death

By Yoon Min-sik

‘Right, Before I Die’ challenges viewers to search for meaning in their lives

  • Published : Jul 2, 2017 - 16:30
  • Updated : Jul 2, 2017 - 16:30

Journeying through life, people constantly ponder over life and death, how they can find meaning in life and how to be at peace when it all comes to an end.

US photographer Andrew George challenges people to ask themselves such questions about life by capturing the faces of 20 men and women on their deathbeds for his photo exhibition “Right, Before I Die.”

“People misunderstand the project and think it’s about death. In truth, it’s really about life,” he said, during the exhibition’s opening ceremony at Chungmu Arts Center in central Seoul. 

Photographer Andrew George (MD Insight)
Kim, one of the terminal patients interviewed for the exhibition “Right, Before I Die.” (MD Insight)
A letter written by Kim, one of the terminal patients interviewed for the exhibition “Right, Before I Die.” (MD Insight)

“We forget because of our cultural difference that there are universal issues that every person faces. My objective was to raise this questions, and start a dialogue (about life).”

For this project, George photographed and interviewed people who were no longer scared about their impending death. He was turned down by 20 doctors, who wanted nothing to do with the project, before meeting Dr. Marwa Kilani, a medical director of palliative care at Providence Holy Cross Medical Center in California.

“I told her that I wanted to make a project about people who have made peace with their pending death, and are no longer scared. I consider that an enlightened state. And I wanted to make a project about wisdom and enlightenment, with regular people,” he said.

George said that working on the project had horrified him, as he had talked to people who stared directly at death and accepted it. But his mission was to make the project not about the people he was interviewing, but about the universal issue of death.

“My objective was not to memorialize their (terminal patients’) disease or their jobs. In fact I did not ask them what their jobs were, or what their disease was. Because I wanted to make this universal, and make it about all of us,” he said.

The exhibition features the faces and messages of 20 individuals, “normal people” as George puts it, who can be found everywhere. There are three elements to the exhibition: their faces, pieces of paper where they have written down what they were feeling and answers to 37 questions the photographer had prepared.

The three elements create a dialogue between the viewer and the subject, challenging the viewer to ask himself or herself the same questions. The images and words resonate powerfully, as they urge the living not to waste what has been given to them. All but one have passed away since the project was initiated.

George challenges visitors to ask themselves: “What gives you joy?” “Do you believe there is any meaning to life,” “Tell me about your dreams,” “Tell me about friendship,” “If you could do it all over again, would you?” “What do you believe in?” “How would you like to be remembered?”

“My request to you is to spend time with the pictures and the words, let them resonate and stir you up. So that you’re forced to ask the same questions and search for meaning in your own life. And find peace and joy like these 20 men and women,” he said.

The exhibition continues until Aug. 6. It is open from noon to 8 p.m. The gallery is closed Mondays and on July 22.

For more information, call (02) 6959-4080.

By Yoon Min-sik