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The Eye and The Heart: Interview with Sangmooh Han

UNICEF points out that “slightly more than one in four children (ages 5 to 17) are engaged in labour that is considered detrimental to their health and development.Sangmooh Han, the first Korean to be selected as an author of UNICEF Photo of the Year, shares his passion with UNICEF by raising awareness of child labor with a portrait of a Bangladesh child working in a metal factory. TongRo Images had an opportunity to sit down with him and go through his journey, searching for truthful images.



Q. Please introduce yourself.

 I am a photographer, Sangmooh Han. After graduating from university, I worked for Kyunghyang Shinmun’s photography department and photography studio for several years. After that, I organized my photography studio – which dealt with a variety of photography artworks. Most recently, I finished a series of portraits after getting contacted by the Chilgok Culture & Tourism Foundation.

 

Q. How did you get to capture the UNICEF Photo of the Year?

UNICEF contacted me one day with a proposal to donate my talent as a volunteer. From then, I have accompanied them for eight years straight since I could not forget the unique attraction of what I have heard and seen. I once even traveled with them twice a year.



Q. On December 5th, a photography exhibition named ‘People of Chilgok’ opened. You have come up with a theme that says, ‘The pride of Chilgok lays on people, not local specialties.’ with the portraits of residents. What was the moment that you felt the theme while creating these artworks?

I still vividly remember all the residents I met during the photoshoot. While taking their portraits, one by one for thirty minutes, who were far from professional models – I realized the power and depth of energy between them accepting me and me trying to capture them as a photographer was impressively intense. That was the moment I came up with the theme.


Q. Before the interview, I looked for the keywords that could describe your oeuvres by observing your various artworks thoroughly; from UNICEF, ‘Gang Rinpoche’, and ‘People of Chilgok’. The closest one was a ‘connection’. What is the most important process while trying to connect with subjects?

So far, I had an opportunity to explore various subjects via photography. To limit them to the people, however, I think there are special stages or methods to go through to build a connection between me and them. Taking that into consideration, my experience of meeting quite a lot of people surely helped, but fortunately, I find myself having not much difficulty when it comes to matching my eye level with others. Instead of trying to get closer with hesitation, I’d rather choose to be honest and try to match my level of heart with others too – so that they could accept me over the barriers of nationality and language.


Hyun-woo Shin, the tenth man in the line of General Yoo Shin who contributed to ‘The Conquest of Nasun', and the chairman of the Chilgok Humanities Village Cooperative.

Q. Life has numerous crosspoints of farce and tragedy. Nevertheless, sorting these out to put them in a single photograph is an inevitable stage of photography. The relationship between something natural, truthful, and artificial has been the main topic since the very start of the documentary; what is your opinion on this?

Commercial photography has a very limited amount of time. Therefore, there is a certain formula that makes a CEO look like a CEO, a doctor as a doctor, etc. For example, the ‘People of Chilgok’ series also borrowed an identical format of typology by directing props and/or posture to show each characteristic. I was fortunate to express it in time due to my experience, yet I am not sure if these are perfectly truthful photographs as a photographer.

 Just two of many varieties of non-commercial photography subjecting humans are documentary and reportage! I think adjusting the depth and degree of level of eye, heart, directing, and limit so that it could suit the genre is also a responsibility of a photographer. The reason why I find the collaboration with UNICEF especially special also starts from there – they have their own regulations and rules to protect the dignity of children who are getting photographed.


Q. Do you have any ongoing projects at the moment?

The most spoken themes among the artists are feminism, environment, and climate. I have started photographing sea glasses I gathered from beach combing, under the title of ‘From the Sea’ since last November.

Another project I am willing to put my passion into is a series of portraits, just like the ‘People of Chilgok’; to capture every single district of South Korea. This sort of geographic and environmental typology interests me a lot. I am planning to send the proposal to district offices soon.


Q. What is your goal to accomplish as a photographer? Or what is your dream as a photographer?

I want to become a photographer who makes artwork that makes others happy.



The exhibition ‘People of Chilgok’, taken by photographer Sangmooh Han who shares his authenticity by matching the level of his eye and heart with the people he captures, will be continued until January 28th at Yetae Art Museum.

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