Bongcheon-dong 127cm x 152cm c-type print 2004

Topyeong-dong 127cm x 152cm c-type print 2005

Sindorim-dong2 127cm x 152cm c-type print 2007

The work in A Square began in 2004, when a bird’s-eye-view of a new park near some construction in downtown Seoul caught my attention. Previously, I had been photographing the sites as seen from the roadside, but from this new aerial perspective, my eye quickly shifted towards places of rest, or parks, that were also under development.

Each area I photographed represents a small park, similar to a town square. Quadrangle in shape, these places are difficult to define. Their atmosphere is similar to that of a traditional park but their usage and size are sharply different. They cannot quite be defined as courtyards or gardens, and technically they more closely resemble the agoras of ancient Greece. When people observe the pictures of these parks from above, they slowly begin to realize that there is something very unnatural about them; they are exotic and heterogeneous scenes, different from real parks.

I find that showing the parks in this way reflects the characteristics of the Korean metropolis where I live. While a park might be associated with rest and play, these areas are increasingly used commercially as a means to boost property values. It would, after all, be hard to have discussions or take rest in such places. Likewise, for people in contemporary Korea, days are compressed in terms of time and space and taking a rest in a small downtown area doesn't seem to have any meaning at all.

The parks also reveal the distortions of fabricated Korean-style spaces, and possibly, the stark realities of capitalism in a slightly comic way as well. Utopian parks are spread out before us, but the trees and resting places situated amongst the bleak concrete structures remind me more of Lego models. And while most won't readily admit it, they are dystopian in reality.

Hosang Park

RW01-001, 2004, 127x169 cm, Digital print

Toy-town never has a wrong side of the railway tracks. If you choose what to build, you can also choose what to omit. Seung Woo Back, a young Korean photographer now living in London, has found in AiinsWorld, Seoul, a place which omits on the grand scale. Everything is made to be photographed. Backdrops screen out the contemporary and the real, which might intrude.

RW01-042, 2006, 127x169cm, Digital print

A whole world of different values is reduced to neutral constructions of zero cultural weight. A stepped pyramid, built for the greater display of human sacrifice, has precisely the same weightless presence as the Opera Garnier or the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Cleanliness and order reign. These are models in the ideological sense, too.There are layers and layers of complexity here.

You do not need to be a botanist to see that Korean vegetation, even when controlled as severely as on a golf course, looks odd at Mount Rushmore. Is that a giant bonsai outside the opera? At this scale, fact gets in the way. High above the Tibetan lamasery you can just make out the shadow of King Kong on the Empire State Building; King Kong, himself a giant model. What is happening when the big little skyscraper has a little big ape at its peak? And what is this whirligig collision whereby junks from the waterfront at Hong Kong have reached the foot of Manhattan, and St. Basil's Cathedral is built in the shadow of Ayer's Rock?

RW01-053, 2006, 127x169 cm, Digital print

Seung Woo Back has refused to photograph this place as it was intended to be photographed. A steady even light flattens the model buildings and makes them share some of the insubstantiality of their own backdrops. By consistently looking from the 'wrong' angle, he has committed an act of mild rebellion. By avoiding the crowds who surely throng the place he has neatly sidestepped the temptation to be snide or condescending about the customers.

Above all, the sureness of his composition stands as an unspoken rebuke to AiinsWorld's prepared angles.To a well-advised and sceptical photographer, there is scope at AiinsWorld for charm and amusement. Seung Woo Back has indeed made delightfully light play of it all. Just see how easy it was (in spite of generations of worry) to put a stable concrete base under the Leaning Tower. Let's laugh at transposed geography and back-stage views, by all means.

RW01-004, 2004, 127x169cm, Digital print

But Seung Woo Back's utter seriousness should not be missed under this wit. In a world where the heritage industry has become big business, this kind of aseptic travel-without-travel represents one kind of norm. Is AiinsWorld less informative than a whistle-stop bus tour of a wholly alien environment?

It is frightening and expensive to travel, and the AiinsWorld (slogan: 'Enjoy a New World in a Day!') makes chilling sense. By reporting so coolly from AiinsWorld, Seung Woo Back has in fact neatly squared a circle. He has travelled to the home of non-travel and come back with a wonderful set of travel pictures. -  Francis Hodgson

Seung Woo Back

Feeding ducks, gulls, pigeons and swans , Lambda print, 2010
h: 153 x w: 100 cm / h: 60.2 x w: 39.4 in

Feeding ducks, gulls, pigeons and swans , Lambda print, 2010 detail

I found a way to hold experience for scrutiny in a still picture. Thousands of photos for each kind of experience were captured for single resulting image. These photographs were taken in succession at intervals based on the experience. And single-pixel-width strips from each photo taken chronologically for the experience, and these strips combined all of the photos representing that experience starting from one side of photograph to the other side in a sequential order. Each element is from a moment. The moments are gathered to represent the duration of experience. These unrecognisably small, indivisibly-sized and intermittent elements are lined up in singular pictures to show experiences, which gather a span of space in flowing time, impossible to see with human eyes.

Hyo Myoung Kim

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