Jo Choon-man »
Exhibition: – 7 Aug 2019
GoEun Museum of Photography
16, Haeundae-ro 452beon-gil
GoEun Museum of Photography’s annual project has exhibited various sides of Busan, captured by the leading Korean photographers for the last 7 years. Now it welcomes a new title, Busan Project, with a wider and more flexible meaning. The Project is an attempt to observe Busan from a new point of view and it presents its first outcome, INDUSTRY BUSAN by ChoonMan Jo. Jo is a great artist known for photographing those major industrial facilities in Korea including the shipyards and other massive manufactural structures. What did he see in Busan’s industrial facilities, in Busan Project 2019?
The city we live in is in its entirety a massive machine and a factory. The cellphone we constantly carry with us is another piece of machine and although we may not often think of them in this way, the houses we live in including the apartments are a type of housing machine as described by Le Corbusier. When the power supplied to those machines are stopped or their parts are broken, our entire lives may shatter. Perhaps the world that we live in is an organism, information and capital smoothly flowing through it, aiming to be a large, singular machine and factory.
Busan’s manufacturing industry is quite diverse and includes rubber, shoes, steel, shipbuilding, chemical, automobile, and ready-to-wear to name just a few. Its history goes back a long way but the manufacturing industry was never captured in the form of photographic images. ChoonMan Jo turned the lens to this side of Busan. The Camera too is a machine for capturing images, meaning a machine is photographing another machine, and maybe Jo too is a photographic machine of the sort. Jo is probably the first to take note and capture Busan’s industrial facilities in such a manner.
Busan’s manufacturing facilities photographed by Jo show full scenery of the factories while other images show products or tools and logistic facilities where the products are made. He photographed big cranes, rubber belts wrapped around the rollers, big and small pipes entangled like an undecipherable language, containers stacked in cubes, colorful barrels containing who knows what, metal gears exposing their cold teeth, vessels and control devices lined up neatly, iron rods glowing red and massive forge presses.
The giant machine called Busan is composed of factories that produce things, the products which are the outcome, and the logistics system that transport them. These systems then form an ecosystem and until now Jo had mostly photographed the factory exteriors from a far distance. It was of course because his subjects were massive heavy industry facilities and the full features can be appreciated only from far. Also, there are many nocturnal images because only when everything is submerged in darkness, lights from the factories would well reveal the presence of those objects.
The most notable part about this exhibition is that ChoonMan Jo has stepped into the factories. His point of view, his subjects and the distance from them have all changed. Having worked as a welder himself, Jo is familiar with the insides of a factory yet he was at times awed by different looks from the scene, and fascinated by the details of the factories as he captured the industrial features of Busan that are different from any other city. He photographed the interiors of the factories, their size varying from small to massive. As a result, the exhibition is divided into 4 categories to highlight the ins and outs of Busan’s industries: inside and outside of the industry, the details, and the ports and the vessels.
When Jo’s camera stepped inside the factories, two things have changed. First, as the distance from the subject became closer the details of the factories began to be apparent. They show everything, from the small elements like bolts and iron dust to the scenes of forging massive ironware and rubber production facilities. The other is how the laborers started to stand out from the small factories producing goods. This is of course because he started to include small scaled factories as his subject. Although the use, purpose, or mechanism of the things filled in the factories Jo has photographed are unknown, a kind of artificial grandeur can be sensed. The feeling penetrates through the body rather than the mind. This is the power of image and photography, and the power held by the subject.
Although the factories Jo has photographed are all different from one another, they are equal in the sense that they newly transform and produce materials for a certain purpose. Even with the arrival of the fourth industrial revolution and 5G era, secondary industry or the manufacturing industry still matters. Even if production and consumption of information have become an industrial mainstream, due to our physical conditions humans will need things and they will continue to be produced.
ChoonMan Jo’s photographs show a certain typological trait but they do not stop there. His curiosity reaches out to factories that are still very active, as well as those that have stopped operation long ago. Through the overwhelming sceneries of the industry, he presents machines and factories living and breathing with humans. From the images of closed steel mill in Völklingen, Germany, he exposes that everything, and not only the factories run by humans, will collapse and disappear someday and grass and tree will cover them. This is a prophecy and reality of the factory’s future, and a device showing how broad the apocalyptic spectrum of his photographs are. His previous works are included in this exhibition book precisely for this reason. In this publication we can access the past, present and the future of ChoonMan Jo’s photography.
Jo’s images are not a praise for the factories nor are they mere admiration. They are unemotional documentations in some ways and on the other hand, are a gaze towards the unknown giant monster living in the foundation of the life we are living. In fact, we consume a great many products produced from the factories and dispose them without thinking about their origin. We sometimes even look the other way. Factories move here and there around the world seeking profits and as a result, a city is destroyed in a blink of an eye. This is because a factory is not just a cluster of machines but a structure fused with capital, manpower, technology, and everything humans boast of creating. No matter how big this structure is, in truth its base is weak which can be collapsed by productivity and capital profit. Perhaps what we can see from Jo’s photographs is a revelation that the strong images of factories and machines stand on sand dunes―capital and finance, which are the fundamental foundation established by humans who produced and constructed them.
Jo’s images question the objects and at the same time the humans who control and have put them in order. Industrial knowledge has long become part of the professional territory and we barely understand the secrets of those products. We see the secret but we cannot decipher them. In that sense, ChoonMan Jo’s photographs are not a simple guidebook for a secret we can’t read, but visual evidence in constant movement which we can read through for a long time.
Busan is a city that has lived through the turmoil of Korean history. It is also the first location to accept photography and a gateway open to the world, a city full of energy and various cultures. Through Busan Project, an annual program by GoEun Museum of Photography, diverse faces of Busan are discovered by notable Korean photographers. They are more than documentation and will become an accomplishment of Korean photography scene, contributing to expanding the historical and cultural spectrum of the region, Busan.