Shortlist Exposed: Sungseok AHN's "Historic Present"

Date
18th Feb 2014

© Sungseok AHN, Korea, Finalist, Architecture, Professional Competition, 2014 Sony World Photography Awards

“Historic Present” was intended as a study of the essence of photography, an effort to recollect the memories of changing spaces.

In this week’s Shortlist Exposed, we spoke with Korean photographer Sungseok AHN on this Architecture shortlisted series, his inspiration, process, and more. 

How did you develop the idea for Historic Present? 
After Korean military service (2005~2007), I travelled to a number of countries in Europe (2008). Whilst exploring some of the major European capitals, I realised I had never 'travelled' Seoul before and that felt very strange. I wondered what tourists visiting Korea would want to see in Seoul. Upon my return from Europe, I headed to Seoul for a month and stayed in a guest-house full of foreign tourists from all over the world. I visited historic places with the people I stayed with and brought English translated tour books with me. I obtained a new perspective about Seoul from this trip and it gave me an opportunity to start my research.  

I pay attention to errors being made when one looks at history with the present view.

Things, even if they are the same objects, can have different meanings if they belong to a different time and culture.

I seek the hidden meanings beyond the object, exploring its political meaning and aesthetics.

Prior to the work of Historic Present, I have been consistently visualising the potentially co-existing objects by synthesizing or juxtaposing two spaces on one photograph for my own special experience that accidentally occurs like a ‘deja-vu’.

The Historic Present is considered as a performance that involves the writer to set up a screen, project the photo of past images and then participate in the photography to juxtapose 『Chosun Gojuk Dobo (Pictorial book has Historical Places on original form in Chosun, which was published by the Japanese Government General of Korea in the era under the colonial administration of imperial Japan.)』, or black and white photos of historical places found from many references owned by individuals or US armies with the existing cultural properties.

In your series description, you state the project questions the way we treat our history. What has been your biggest takeaway from the series' development?
With myself being as contemporary one, I am in the Korean society, which is in the middle of a dramatically changing part of the world.  

Can you tell us a bit about your techniques? Where did you find the old photographs? How did you decide which locations you wished to shoot?
Regarding the technique, please see the process images below;

Sungseok Ahn

1-1. first of all, run a portable electronic generator.

1-2. set up the screen.

1-3. place beam projector with laptop, 4x5 camera and digital camera.

1-4. take a picture when sunrise or sunset. That’s all.

Sungseok Ahn

Visiting the places many times and understanding the space were far more important than the technique used.

2-1. 『Chosun Gojuk Dobo (Pictorial book has Historical Places on original form in Chosun, which was published by the Japanese Government General of Korea in the era under the colonial administration of imperial Japan.)』,

2-2. black and white photos of historical places found from many references owned by individuals.

2-3. US armies with the existing cultural properties (Korean war).

3-1 Chose order of priority related to historical significance.

What do you hope viewers will take away from viewing Historic Present?
Someday all of us will disappear like others in the old pictures. Things change and we will be gone.

For more of Sungseok's work, visit his website here.
To see the full series, click here.
To see more Professional Shortlist galleries, click here.
For more Shortlist Exposed interviews, click here.



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