Ikebana: Ikebana is commonly known as the Japanese art of flower arrangement and origami the art of folding paper. However, the Korean term for paper folding is ‘ikebana’. In Korea the spiritual aspect of ikebana is considered very important to its practitioners. Things in nature are appreciated. Koreans are inspired to identify with beauty in all art forms. In this image we see a two-fold use of ‘ikebana’, the paper folding and using the end product for decoration of a tree.
Fish: Koreans love raw fish and raw shellfish. They are a staple component of the Korean diet, especially raw fish, ‘hweh’.
Forest: In this scene the artist skilfully hijacks a hoarding hiding an industrial site that is artistically painted as a forest. Reflecting back to the past, the women are burdened with bundles of wood to fuel the fire at home.
Ladder: Beset by invasions from neighbouring countries, including most recently by North Korea, their blood brothers to the north, this image symbolises the resistance of the South Korean folk to these attacks.
Harvest: Like its neighbouring countries, Japan, China, and Indochina, Korea is also a tea-drinking country with a rich ceremonial tea culture. In this image Fullerton-Batten captures the impression of Hanbok-clad women harvesting tea in the middle of Seoul. In reality the tea plants are boxwood plants.
Rickshaw: For many thousands of years Korea was a single, independent kingdom and resisted many invasions. But the country was defeated by Japan in 1910 and occupied to the end of WW II in 1945. At the end of the war Korea was divided into two nations, south and North Korea along ideological lines. This image reflects back on the Japanese occupation with a Japanese ‘rickshaw’ being drawn by Korean bearers.
Rope: At the end of WWII Korea was split into two separate nations along ideological persuasions, South Korea and North Korea. Tensions built between the two countries. On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea, starting a bloody war that lasted more than 3 years and involving more than 20 countries. The image ‘Rope’ symbolises this war and the continuing political struggles between the two nations in the form of a tug-of-war between the two participating countries.
Creative Director: and Founder: Aram Kim
Photographer: Julia Fullerton-Batten
Heidi: What drew you to Korea to create this body of work?
Julia: I was asked to exhibit work from several of my projects and host a ‘talk’ at the Dong Gang Photofestival, curated by Louise Clements and Joanne Junga Yang, title, UK PHOTOGRAPHY NOW: The Constructed View. The Festival is held at several venues in the city of ‘Yeongwol”. I try to organize a personal shoot whenever I am asked to travel somewhere specifically for an exhibition opening. In this instance I decided to extend my stay in Korea by eight days and complete the planning of my project, as well do an unplanned visit to “Everland” for a shoot there, similar to one I had done in Tokyo on a similar visit several months prior.
Korea has fascinated me for a while now, with its history, and its long term unresolved tensions between North and South Korea. I therefore decided to use this opportunity to combine the Festival with a personal shoot in Seoul. I had quite some time in which to prepare my ideas for the project. This I finally decided would be an attempt to combine the traditions, culture and history of South Korea against the modern architecture of Seoul. I did a lot of research online and also liaised closely with people in Korea.
In the three months of preparation for this project did you work with any native Koreans that had cultural knowledge?
I worked very closely with a local Korean producer, a location finder, local stylists and hair and make-up artists. This cooperation also helped me with ideas for the shots. For one thing, although I had heard of the Hanbok traditional dress before, I had never actually seen it. Many of us in the West are aware of recent Korean history – the Korean war and the current political tensions between South and North Korea, but minor cultural details such as not using green paper for wrapping presents I found by searching on Google.
I also worked with Kim Aram, the editor and owner of the Korean ‘Blink’ Magazine. She helped me find the girls for the shoot by blogging about my visit to Korea on Facebook. We had many responses. Although I didn’t
I took my London assistant, John, with me to Korea as we work very well together and we were able to prepare many details of the shots ahead of time.
You had mentioned you arrived during monsoon season, how difficult was that for you personally and your equipment? 90% humidity seems quite high and yet the women look so cinematic and perfect. What were the obstacles in those conditions?
The date of the Festival was, of course long fixed, and it just happened that it took place in the middle of the Korean monsoon season so there as no way to avoid that at all. Before we flew to Seoul there were heavy rainstorms. I was told that 6 people had sadly been washed away by severe flooding along the river.
Upon arrival in Korea, my producer told me that some locations would be too dangerous to shoot at, and that I would have to rethink my ideas. This was worrying as I had each location, each model and each prop all mapped out in my head. However, I was very lucky as the weather changed and the dangerous areas were opened again by the authorities. We just needed to go there and see if it was possible to shoot.
I feel now that a lucky star was following me during those intense 5 days of shooting. The rain seemed to hold off until the moment that I put my camera back in its case. On other occasions, we would get up at 4am and it was bucketing down with rain, and I prepared mentally to drop a shot or two. But again, upon reaching the location the weather had miraculously cleared and we could shoot in the dry after all.
The humidity was very tough. As neither John nor I were used to it, the humidity was quite a challenge for us both. John suffered in particular as there was considerable physical effort involved in moving lighting from one location to another, and in setting up and changing power-sources when daylight changed.
The girls also suffered. They wore layer upon layer of material in their Hanbok dress. Fortunately, we had hired an air- conditioned bus for them to escape into and cool down. I also tried to prepare everything and then get them on to the set at the very last minute.
As you explained, the contrast of the austere backgrounds and Korean traditions is at the core of this work.
On your site Images 1-8 PERSONAL section 3 it looks as though some were shot during your three month stay. How was your approach to these images different from the Korean traditions body of work?
I spent two days with my London assistant in a fascinating place called “EVERLAND” We were accompanied by a local assistant from Seoul, who helped to translate and set up the lighting. Yong-sik Shin from Hasselblad also joined us as he wanted to see me on a shoot and he very kindly organised access to the location, as well as a loan of a Hasselblad camera.
“Everland” is a huge theme park in Yongin, Geyeonggi-do province. It is South Korea’s largest theme park, with about 6.6 million visitors annually. It is a truly spectacular place to visit, filled with fantasy buildings, thrill rides, fairground attractions, African safari bus rides, parades and festivals. I didn’t have enough time to see it all, so I concentrated mostly on one area, the “Caribbean Bay”. I approached this shoot in a totally different way from how I normally arrange a shoot – nothing was planned or organized, we just turned up and walked around (with permission of course!) with a suitcase full of lighting and approached visitors to photograph. It was very refreshing to be more carefree with the approach. This is probably the closest I will get to being a reportage photographer, except when I photograph my boys!