Believing is Seeing exhibition at Ffotogallery

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The idea in some parts of the world that taking a photograph of somebody amounts to stealing their soul is nothing new.

But a fascinating new exhibition of work by seven Korean artists about to open at the Ffotogallery in Penarth goes a step further in exploring just how much of our selves can be captured in a portrait.

Hein-Kuhn Oh, Jung-suh Yun, age 17 July 19, from Cosmetic Girls, 2007 © the artist

The term 'Junsinsajo' is used in traditional Korean portrait painting and signifies the replication of a person's shape and spirit. This means that taking a snapshot of a person is not restricted to a replication of their physical likeness, but should also embody the essence of their personality.

It is an idea that endures in contemporary photography and makes for one of the themes explored by the seven photographers incorporated in the Believing is Seeing exhibition, a body of work which also appears to question the very notion of 'Koreanness'.

The collaboration has been made possible through the work of Ffotogallery curator David Drake and Jiyoon Lee from the SUUM Academy & Project in Korea and was jointly funded by Arts Council Korea and Wales Arts International.

David says: "Each of the seven featured artists has a very different approach to photographic portraiture.

"The exhibition examines some common themes in contemporary Korean photographic art - its performative nature, ideas of duration and transience, nature and constructed reality, memory and illusion.

"Inverting the Western idiom 'seeing is believing', the exhibition features artists with markedly different strategies in relation to photographic portraiture, but who have in common the rejection of any approach to photography that emphasises visual verification and purely mechanical reproduction."

Je Baak, detail from We Laughed Together, 2009 © the artist

The exhibition will, he says, challenge our preconceptions about Korean culture.

"It's a very distinct culture but each artist is very aware of Western arts traditions, influenced by global contemporary art trends but remaining deeply rooted in Korean culture and traditions.

"The work featured in the exhibition also demonstrates the 'natural ambiguity' of the photographic image in that the portraits are no longer just depictions of people, they have a reality of their own and become a screen onto which the viewer projects their own relationships and emotions."

The featured artists are Byung-Hun Min, Duck Hyun Cho, Hein-Kuhn Oh, Hyun Mi Yoo, Je Baak, Kyungwoo Chun and the awardwinning photographer Seihon Cho. In all they have contributed 44 different works to the exhibition.

One of Duck Hyun Cho's works sees him combining an image of the queen with an image of his mother in a portrait realised as a graphite pencil drawing on canvas, where the canvas is allowed to hang loose, like a drape.

His collection sees him repeatedly blurring the boundaries between painting and photography and reflects a keen interest in personal memory and collective history, identity, family and spirituality.

Duck Hyun Cho & Seihon Cho, Portrait of a Great Monk, 2001 © the artists

In Oh's work, his subjects in many cases break a Korean taboo, as they are teenage girls embracing the world of cosmetics and the myriad ways it can alter and sexualise appearance.

Chun has become well-known for his poetically blurred photographic portraits, created in a very unconventional way of dealing with time and space.

The exhibition runs from 10 November to 17 December with a private view on 9 November and a curators' talk on 1 December at 6.30pm.

Admission is free to all visitors. For more details visit

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