Photographs of Jongsung Paul Choe restore the agony of his identity to existential meaning in the course of the intersecting the memories of the places where his lived or visited and the situations of reality that he experienced. On the 11th of September 2001 the destruction of the World Trade Center (WTC) by terrorism gave strong impact to the American people. With the tragedy Choe who lived as an alien in the USA became more personally involved in self-identity and anguish of living directivity.
As a foreigner who lived in the USA at a boundary ―sometimes as a member of the community, at times as a marginal man― he has held sight with which he can look into closely the inside of the American society for a moment. A great variety of signboards, American vernacular architecture, and symbols which are contained in Choe's photographs passed 1970's and 1980's throughout the turbulence of 1960's. Through the accumulated history of that time we can staidly look into the early 2000's American society that presented a magnificent appearance.
Choe's color photographs of characteristically of hard-boiled gaze are in common with the American photographic furrows of Walker Evans, Robert Frank, and William Eggleston who are all representative American photographers. Evans conceptually approaches vernacular American pictures which emerge out of signboard or architecture. Frank depicts differential aspects of American society through individual recognition. Eggleston records with simple colors the landscapes of southern part of the State where he grew up.
Sometimes Jongsung Paul Choe photographed cautiously at silent time and retreated place. That attitude reminds us the vainness that we felt in the photographs of a prominent documentary photographer, Eugene Atget. And thus Choe's photographs draw out again Walker Evans, Eugene Atget, Robert Frank from our memories, and assure us that he succeeds to the stream of documentary photography.
In general one common element of various definitions of things is the desire to describe things as they really are in order to offer credible information. At this point an important argument is how description would be affiliated with reality and how much the relevant subject would be worthwhile in the aspect of record. And how the collected materials have been used should be concentrated. In Choe's photographs the realm of strong manifestation is the important rise of behavior and situational context. The behavior should be viewed through the intuitive recognition of the photographer.
Roland Barthes in his La Chambre Claire restored photography to imitative reflection of reality through the utterance about referentiality. But today's documentarists do not share with Barthes' idea that their behavior might be pure inflection of reality. They insist that they do not merely record in terms of photography.
Jongsung Paul Choe's photographs assure us that documentary photography is not any more the real image of social subject but considerateness of recording behavior. His photographs serenely seize ordinary American features keeping on a definite distance. The photographs that contain some features of those States of Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey, and New York where he lived represent the photographer's temperate views of places and things through the intersection of past and present time. Plenty of his photographs were taken throughout running bus windows. Reemergence of dimly expressed and passing memories constitute his interpretation of the stream of time, and becomes the expression of feeling that accompanied with perception.
Reality is incapable of being a fair judgment any more with one viewpoint because it becomes fragmentation and diversification in the society of new media age. Choe not only acknowledges reality as it is but the impossible reality that a fair judgment can't be based on one viewpoint through the photographer's view. He seriously treats his matter of concern and interest through visualizing the images of situations that he encountered. And thus these photographs do not merely focus external and objective reality. And furthermore, subjective recognition of the photographer that was derived from one situation has been emphasized. It means that Choe's photographs surpass simple reproduction of things in the context of art.
Photographer, Jongsung Paul Choe interprets the fragments and afterimages that he felt at those related places to his life making use of photography. He approaches the question of self-identity in the process of reasoning heterogeneous and compound emotions in which sentiments and situations of diversified categories have been expressed.
Youngsil Sohn, Ph.D
Curator of Seoul Museum of Art