Two weeks ago, I left the blizzards of the Northeast for Houston, Texas to attend FotoFest’s second session. The reviews were a great way to connect with colleagues, put faces with names, and see a lot of photography over the course of a few intense days.
During the four-day event I reviewed portfolios both completed and in-progress from 56 photographers from all over the globe. Here are a few of the portfolios that I had the pleasure to view and discuss.
CHAN HO PARK—THE RETURNED
We, Koreans, express the word “died” as “returned.” Where did we come from, and where will we return?
For many years I have explored the fundamental question of Returning. Returning, death...The question originated from the trauma caused by the death of my mother when I was a child. Now the fear of my own death raises another question.
In my mother’s ward where the cancer patients gathered, I could, without fail, hear the wailing cries of patient's injected with anti-cancer drugs. As a young child, it sounded no different from hell.
For most, the first time facing death might be unforgettable. I wish that I could forget my mother’s death—a memory too painful to revisit. After seeing her photograph, that memory is again in front of me, staring at me.
I am afraid of death. I am afraid of the pain of the dying process and the agony my children would feel who might be left behind. How I will I die?
I have tried to approach these questions about death through traditional beliefs of Shamanism and Confucianism in modern society and by photographing Buddhism's perspective on death through the rituals for funeral, memory cherishing, and praying in Korean Buddhism. In the end, the question, “what is death?” is not different from the question, “what is the existence?” I will also die in the near future. Where will I go? What I will be reborn into? And how would I be remembered?
ROMAN FRANC — PORTRAITS
Saying something with a portait is difficult.
Like expressing love with a touch of a nose.
The ability to give oneself.
The light has to fall in a different way than usual.
Happy to play.
And then out of the blue photography turns into a mystery. Suddenly, people don’t look the way we know them—but the way we dream about them. In a way more real than possible. The light runs through their bodies, they are beautiful and ugly, they are unsure and caught, firm and true. Then I think about the dreams the people dream, about anxieties which possess them and about daylight and shadows, the night.
FERIT KUYAS — ASTANA
Large cities have been in the center of my photographic interest for approximately 20 years.
In a time when more than half of the world population live in urban areas. I am interested to explore their habitats and put together the “Generic City“—a fictious city formed by cityscapes that when looked at in a series, seem anonymous without revealing in which city they were photographed.
Oddly I “discovered“ Astana in a TV documentary on the architect Sir Norman Foster who has been building several commissions for the Kazakh government in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan. Founded only 1997, the city has already a population of roughly 850.000.
Astana can be seen as a symbol for a nation on the search to redefine their identity. Having formerly been part of the Soviet Union, the Kazakh were stripped of most of their ethnic identity. Today they are on the verge of a massive change—new wealth brought by the oil industry enables growth, the cyrillic alphabet is about to be replaced by the latin alphabet, making Kazakhstan more accessible to Western economy.
During my travel to Astana in October 2017 I found a modern city in the middle of nowhere with hundreds of kilometers of step around it. Where in the old days nomadic Kazakhs would set up their camps, today Astana resembles a petrified mirage in the flatland.
And the Kazakh culture that used to be based on horses, is now based on cars.
EKATERINA SOLOVIEVA — THE EARTH'S CIRCLE. KOLODOZERO
The village of Kolodozero, deeply concealed in the woods of Pudozh, is located on the border between Arkhangelsk Oblast and Karelia. In ancient times, people settled on the northern flanks of the local bodies of water—rivers and lakes. Kolodozero therefore consists of a handful of small hamlets—Lakhta, Isakovo, Ust’-Reka, Pogost’, Zaozerye, and Dubovo. Houses are scattered along the picturesque lake’s shores and capes. Fifteen years ago, these places enchanted three friends from Moscow who were strolling around the north and searching for the meaning of life, and most likely, themselves as well. In 2001, they jointly gathered resources and started building a new church to replace the old one that was burned down back in 1977. One of the friends, the redhead rebel and punk Arkady Shlykov, who graduated from the Moscow Spiritual Seminary, accepted the ordination in 2005. A 40 years later, therefore, parochial life was born anew in the village. The stern locals at first cast much suspicion onto the shaggy-haired, rockstar-resembling priest, but later on came to love him wholeheartedly. They accepted his freedom, both external and internal, and appreciated his character—peace-loving and gentle. This is a story about the people of the Russian North, about what keeps them together, about the spirit and soul, about their passions and emotions.
Four days after this book was published, on February 12th 2018, I got sad news from Kolodozero. Priest Arkady Shlykov suddenly died after a heart attack. He was 45 years old. All the years he lived in Kolozero he took all the problems and sorrows of the people of the village very personally, helped them selflessly. He used to spend hours hitchhiking to the remote communities to baptize, read the funeral service or just serve in the temple. And at some moment his heart gave up. A new priest has already been appointed to the church he had built with his friends. But he won't be able to serve regularly, and people are yet to get used to him.