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Korea and Brazil Seen through the Camera’s Eye/Interview with Photographer João Paulo Barbosa/This year marks the 50th anniversary of Korean immigration to Brazil pursuant to an agreement between the governments of the two nations. Although individual Koreans had started immigrating to Brazil somewhat earlier, a group of 17 families dispatched to Brazil in December 1962 to engage in farming, with assistance from the state-sponsored Korean Immigration Association, were Korea’s first official immigrants to the South American country. A variety of commemorative events are taking place in both countries this year. The Korea Foundation Cultural Center Gallery held a photo exhibition titled “50 Views of Korea and Brazil” from June 29-July 11, in cooperation with the Brazilian Embassy in Korea.I interviewed Brazilian photographer João Paulo Barbosa, 39, as he was making final preparations for the exhibition.

What’s the theme of this photo exhibition?

Park Myoung-hwa, who is presenting her works in this exhibition along with me, focused on Brazilian women, but I didn’t have any particular theme in my mind. I just tried to look at the nature and culture of Korea, not so much from an ordinary foreigner’s perspective, but rather from a photographer’s viewpoint.

How did you choose subjects for your photographs? Did you find any place particularly impressive?

Last year, I stayed in Korea for 45 days and took numerous photos. I arrived here on May 13 and traveled around the countryside with Park. We visited many outstanding locations, such as Mt. Halla, Ulleung Island, and Gyeongju. I liked all these places because each had its unique colors and features. Since I majored in history at college, the ancient historic sites in Gyeongju piqued my curiosity, but especially the dramatic scenery of Ulleung Island remains vivid in my memory. Ulleung Island is somewhat similar to Fernando de Noronha, the most beautiful island in Brazil. And, of course, I put my focus on Korea’s scenery, the likes of which I cannot find in Brazil.

What scenery, for example?

Doing this project, I fulfilled my personal dreams. I’ve enjoyed diving since I was 10, so I was very pleased to personally meet the haenyeo (female divers) of Jeju Island, whom I had only known about through books. Diving along with them, I could capture their real-life situations with my camera. In addition, the residents of Haenam and Jeju showed me around their farmland and gave me free lodging in their homes. All the Koreans I met during my stay opened their hearts wide and showed me so much kindness. I really appreciate their generosity.

How did you select the works to display at this exhibition?

Through my two visits since last year, I have taken about 30,000 photos in Korea all together. It really wasn’t easy to choose only 50 pieces out of them. Yet, I am most pleased to jointly participate in this exhibition with Park. She has perfect ideas as an artist. I expect this exhibition to be an opportunity to compare our different views as two individual artists.

Festival, 2012 Joao Paulo Barbosa/Park Myoung-hwa

I heard that you have plans to publish a book by compiling the photos presented in this exhibition.

A collection of 50 photos taken in Korea and Brazil will be published with introductory remarks around this September in Korea.

Fighting for a better life,Joao Paulo Barbosa/Park Myoung-hwa

This is your fourth exhibition in Korea, which may be quite unusual for a Brazilian photographer. How did you develop this connection with Korea?

There are many talented photographers in Brazil. So I shouldn’t say I’ve been most frequently introduced here because I am the greatest photographer in my country (laughter). I have taken a lot of photos to promote Brazil, and in 2007, when Mr. Edmundo Fujita, the current Brazilian ambassador to Korea, was serving in Indonesia, I held an exhibition with his help and earned a favorable response. It seems the exhibition in Indonesia was a good start.

How did you become a photographer?

As a history major in college, I developed an interest in the language, literature, and geography of other countries, and I enjoyed traveling. Then, I chose photography for my career as a means to travel without spending much money (laughter). But I had to learn photography personally from professional photographers because no university in Brazil at that time offered a major in photography.

Barbosa said that he earned money from his photographs for the first time at age 22. After participating in an African project, he sent in a travel story with some photographs to a leading magazine in Brazil, which was accepted to be published. Since then, he said, he has been “lucky enough” to work as a professional photographer for 15 years. However, while contributing his photos and essays to various magazines as a photo journalist, he has also continued to take pictures of Brazil’s nature for its overseas promotion “as a means to make a living.” In addition, since 1999, he has operated his own studio, teaching students and lecturing at colleges.

What does photography mean to you?

I think photography is about asking a question about a certain important theme and seeking the answer through an image. Therefore, the meaning of photography keeps changing depending on your theme. Right now, I am interested in “documenting” how human beings adapt themselves to their rapidly changing environment of the 21st century.

This is why he highly values his travels around Asia over 500 days from 2007 to 2008, cherishing an opportunity to entirely dedicate himself to a single project each year. When asked how his family copes with his long-term stays abroad, he said he has no problem because his wife fully understands that traveling is an essential part of his career and life. Still, he said, he misses his 27-month-old son and feels sorry for not being around him. “So, after each working trip, I try to go on a family trip” he said.

Women worker,Park Myoung-hwa/Joao Paulo Barbosa

João Paulo Barbosa

majored in history at the University of Brasilia. He received a special prize at the Banff Mountain Photography Competition, held in 2010 in Canada, and was one of the finalists at the Smithsonian Magazine Photo Contest in 2011. He recently supervised a 50th anniversary commemoration project for the Brazilian National Parks, which led to an exhibition and publication of a photo collection. His photographs have been published by various magazines and exhibited in many countries. He held his first solo exhibition in Korea in 2011.

Park Myoung-hwa

majored in photography at Sangmyung University. She worked for the Publication Department of the Kyunghyang Daily News and contributed her photos to magazines and for advertisements for many years. In 2005, she traveled the Latin American region for 10 months, which made her focus on documentary photography. In 2008, she published her photographs and writings in a book titled “Gracias Latin.” She is currently undertaking a project on the theme of women, titled “A Series of Microscopic Views of the Earth.”

Kim Sung-hee Columnist

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