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00707012
2011.4
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KOREAN

 Pine Tree Series. Bae Bien-u

Bae Bien-u (Bae Byeong-u) is a leading Korean photographer, who has contributed much to promoting Korea’s natural beauty through the graceful artistry of his photographic works. Due to his longtime focus on pine trees, Bae is known as “the pine tree photographer” at home and abroad. In 2010, his photography drew attention in Europe when one of his trademark pine tree photographs was selected for the poster image of the Salzburg Festival, which celebrated its 90th anniversary that year.

Last year, Bae was introduced to the heads of state and cultural figures from the Group of 20 countries at the C20 (Culture 20) event, held ahead of the G20 Seoul Summit, as a leading contemporary Korean photographer, along with a video presentation of his representative pine tree pictures.

On March 20 this year, the Korea Foundation Cultural Center hosted a unique event that presented Bae’s photographic works and a selection of chamber music pieces. Through a video interview Bae explained for the audience the world of his photography in his own words.

The following are highlights of the interview:

Photographer Bae Bien-uHow did you become interested in photography?

At first, I drew pictures. In those days, cameras were rare. But one of my seniors at school had a camera. So, I could watch him taking photographs and sometimes worked with him developing pictures, and so on. After a while, he suggested that I become a photographer, saying, “Boy, you have strong legs.” I loved photography, so I started in earnest to learn it.

What do you think made you a famous photographer?

I think I was lucky. I was born in good times. In the 1990s, when I was working really hard, Korean companies were growing quickly. They could purchase my works, sponsor my exhibitions, and support the publication of my books. Of course, I also worked very hard. Photography is a medium that can be most easily understood around the world, isn’t it? Especially, since I focus on subjects that reveal the traditional beauty of Korea, such as trees, seascapes, and islands, my works seem to better appeal to foreigners.


Your works have been introduced as images promoting music concerts, so they seem to be related with music. Did you intend so?

No. Actually, I am ignorant about music. But many people have said my photos remind them of Beethoven or Dvorak. This is how I became related with musicians through work. I loved it, and I came to enjoy harmonizing my work with music, like here today.

A great majority of your works feature natural landscapes of Korea, such as the volcanic mounds called oreum in Jeju Island, pine trees, and islands. What is the reason?

I’m attracted to things that are nature-friendly and traditional. I must say I am inherently drawn to my native place, where I spent my childhood making friends with mountains, fields and the sea. Also, I felt that I should find in things Korean the key to resolving my problems as a photographer. I might have continued to work in this way, even though my photographs had failed to draw attention. I’m not up-to-the-minute, but I believe that taking photographs of scenes from our lives is what I should do, and what I can’t avoid doing. I believe that if someone works really hard, his work will certainly be appreciated someday, if not today. But the encouragement I get from people all around gives me great strength (laughter).How did you come to photograph pine trees?

VWhile capturing images of the seas, islands and trees of Korea, I suddenly wondered what would truly stand for Korea. Then, in 1983, I was taking pictures of pine trees at the seaside temple, Naksansa, when I realized, “Ah, this is Korea!” Pine trees make up about 20 percent of all trees growing in Korea, and they are the most beloved trees of the Korean people. Pine trees also have much dignity. I’m actually asked this question quite often and as I continue to take pictures of pine trees, I’ve also come to study about them.
You are known to use an analogue method.

To me, the process of taking pictures with film and developing prints feels as familiar as my own body’s movement. I just feel comfortable working with an analogue method. That’s all.
What’s the secret of taking good photographs?

As with everything else, you must work hard taking as many pictures as possible. And you must understand illumination, or light, just like when you learn painting. When you say someone takes good photographs, you mean that person understands the workings of light. There is a certain type of light that every photographer likes most. I like the light just before sunrise, so I work a lot at this time of the day.

What do you have to say to your audience today?
As I’ve been doing so far, I will show you all I want to say through my work. Thank you very much.

The video interview of Bae was shown along with his works, including “Islands,” “Volcanic Mounds” and “Pine Trees Series,” while a chamber orchestra played peaceful and soothing tunes like Dvorak’s “Silent Woods” and Saint-Saens’ “The Swan.” The video concert, though rather short, effectively introduced the audience to the photography of Bae Bien-u ― how deeply he has been devoted to capturing the aesthetics of Korean natural scenery.

Choi Kyung-sook

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