Han Youngsoo: Photographs of Seoul 1956–63

Exhibition Website

Feb 24 2017 - Jun 9 2017

Mana Contemporary

Jersey City, NJ

Mana Contemporary and International Center of Photography (ICP) at Mana present the first substantial U.S. showing of the work of Korean photographer Han Youngsoo (1933–1999).

The exhibition, is  organized by ICP and the Waterfall Mansion & Gallery. Han Youngsoo 's remarkable images bring to life the social and economic rebirth of Seoul in the years following the Korean War. The thirty-eight prints on view have been selected by ICP Adjunct Curator Christopher Phillips and Waterfall Mansion & Gallery Adjunct Curator Dooeun Choi. A biographical video, Han Youngsoo: His Modern Times in Seoul, produced by the Han Youngsoo Foundation, will be on view in the gallery throughout the course of the exhibition.

Han Youngsoo was little known outside of Korea during his lifetime. Seen from today’s vantage point, his photographs come as a surprise. With their impeccable composition, flawless timing, and scrupulous attention to social detail, they suggest the work of a long-lost Korean cousin of such early Magnum photographers as Henri Cartier-Bresson, David Seymour (Chim), and Marc Riboud. After taking part in bitter frontline fighting as a young South Korean soldier during the Korean War (1950–53), Han returned to Seoul at the war’s end and found a devastated city. Choosing photography as a profession, he witnessed a period of profound transformation in Seoul that saw the rapid creation of a modern city and urban society. His photographs tell this story by offering a fascinating window onto the everyday lives of the city’s ordinary men, women, and children. 

Although he did not overlook the surviving customs and architecture of old Seoul—there are remarkable views of terraced hills crowded with traditional tile-roofed dwellings—Han was more interested in exploring the modern urban culture that was rapidly taking shape. His street portraits are filled with recognizable metropolitan types: an anxious young couple tending to their sidewalk used-book stall; a self-satisfied young woman strolling in a sleek fur coat on what appears to be a warm fall day. Han paid special attention to the changing status of Korean women, who were then finding new roles as entrepreneurs or consumers, as suggested in views of narrow streets lined with well-stocked fashion boutiques. Although after 1966 Han turned his attention to running a successful studio specializing in advertising and fashion photography, his photographs of Seoul in the postwar decade remain one of the richest and most humanly sympathetic visual records of those years.

Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website

  • Photography
  • Asian
  • 20th Century
  • Culture / Lifestyle
  • Han Youngsoo

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