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Looking into ‘Another Way’

Park No-hae’s photo exhibition sheds light on Asia’s unseen workers

By Korea Herald

Published : Feb. 4, 2014 - 19:36

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“The Village Where the Cloud Stays,” taken in Nasirabad village, Pakistan, 2011. (Park No-hae) “The Village Where the Cloud Stays,” taken in Nasirabad village, Pakistan, 2011. (Park No-hae)

For 15 years, poet-turned-photographer Park No-hae roamed alone around uncharted villages and remote settlements in Asia and the Middle East, carrying just a fountain pen and a rusty camera. Now he seeks to share his encounters and revelations with the modernized populace and redefine humanity’s true values.

Titled, “Another Way,” Park’s new photo exhibit of 120 carefully selected pictures taken in six countries ― each photo accompanied by a short poem-like caption written by the poet-photographer himself ― is on display at the Sejong Art Center in Seoul.

Photographed in different hinterlands of Asia including Pakistan, Indonesia, India, Laos, Burma and Tibet, the images feature ordinary lives of countless commoners around the world, mostly peasants tied to their land, who lead a humble but hopeful life despite poverty and difficult circumstances.

“I wanted to share the greatness of daily life that these many unknown people live. Unmindful of the progress that the rest of the world is riding on, they till the land and live silently day by day without being aware of how great their contributions are,” said Park in a press conference on Tuesday. “These obscure people are the true backbone of today’s world.”

Park No-hae at a battlefield in Lebanon in 2007. (Nanum Munhwa) Park No-hae at a battlefield in Lebanon in 2007. (Nanum Munhwa)

He shoots with a special technique that minimizes the use of light and maximizes “backlighting,” in which the main source of light comes from behind the subject. The technique gives the subject a vibrant hue or glow, creating a moving scene that transforms the seemingly insignificant subject into a more grandiose and lively figure.

The poet-photographer’s captions add context and depth to his works by imbuing a thoughtful narrative and reflective meaning to each captured moment.

“Each caption took a lot of effort and time. It embodies the history of the country where the photograph was taken, the story or event as well as the challenge and question that is directed at today’s world,” Park said. “However, the caption should not interfere with the viewer’s own judgment,” he added.

Alongside a photograph of a farming couple living at the summit of a snow-topped mountain in a small Pakistani village is a poem that reads, “This place is too high and too cold ― barren. The couple who grows apples in a hand-built mud house say, ‘One can’t choose his or her country and parents. One simply accepts what can’t be changed and tries one’s best in the parts that can be changed.’ The couple light up the fireplace, handing over a cup of warm tea and smiles.”

In another picture, a Tibetan woman holds her baby by a handmade tent. In the caption, she says: “I am just a temporary passerby on this land ... after I have left, new leaves will grow, new sun will shine, and new children will be born.”

“These Tibetan people never stay in one place for more than three months, although there is no written law that requires them to do so. They naturally understand that staying will ruin the land and make it desolate in the long run. Protecting what is shared is simply a part of their lifestyle,” said Park.

Park himself has had a close connection with labor and workers. He rose as an icon of resistance against South Korea’s authoritarian regime in the 1980s with his poetry collection that shed light on the suffering of Korean workers, “Labor’s Dawn,” for which he served seven years in jail. Upon his release during the democratization era, he began traveling abroad.

Through his exhibition, Park seeks to help answer the ultimate questions that afflict today’s generation distraught by competition, wealth and the drive for success: What is a good life? How should one live?

“Everyone has something that he or she wants. One’s path becomes clear only upon realizing that one’s current path is not the right one,” Park said. “I hope that by reflecting on the lives of these humble people, today’s generation can move away from a narrow vision of their own paths and find hope and meaning.”

Park’s exhibition runs until March 4 at the Sejong Center Art Museum. Tickets are 5,000 won for adults and 3,000 won for students. All proceeds will be used to provide aid to the people in the photos. For more information, visit www.anotherway.kr.

By Sohn Ji-young (jiyoung.sohn@heraldcorp.com)