In the occasion of the Trieste Photo Days, 2020 edition, the photographer Alain Schroeder, winner of URBAN 2019, offers us the opportunity to pose our looks on this region of the Asian continent through three different stories. The political division which defines Korea since 1945 is also reflected in proposed setting: each room corresponds to a nation and the dividing wall revokes that border line which coincides with the 38th parallel.
The first room is dedicated to North Korea, one of the most secretive country in the entire world. The photos taken in Pyongyang have been taken on the 9th of September 2018, in occasion of the 70th anniversary of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s foundation, an exceptional event as it was accessible to the press and to tourists.
The photographer chooses to leave for Korea in order to realise a project dedicated to the Korean martial art of Taekwondo (which literally means “the way of the foot and fist”), created in 1955 by general Choi Hong-hi. During his stay at Pyongyang, the photographer managed to take shots of various areas of the city under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-un. However, it’s a precious photographic documentation that – as the photographer himself suggests – does not faithfully revoke the country as it is conditioned by manipulative mechanisms of the regime’s information, since this photoshoot has been carried out under the strict censorship control of two official guides who showed what to observe and photograph.
This is not Korea emphasises the photographer, but the photoshoot, whilst following the regime’s communicative styles, has the merit of giving back the prodigious operating machine created for the construction of consent which, in this case, desires to cross national borders.
South Korea is described throughout a series of feminine portraits taken in the island of Jeju. Here, dive fishing is practiced by the Haenyeo women who dive without oxygen tanks into the freezing cold waters hunting for the precious awabi (abalone or sea ears): endangered shellfish which are being constantly required even by western starred chefs.
The monochromatic portraits, more or less frontal portraits, describe mature divers wrapped in a rubber suit, protected by old glasses, bandaged at the waist by a lead weight belt and armed with a bitchang, the spear used to extract the abalone.
The presence of these fisherwomen has become popular in Japan as well. The fascination which they exert has given way to both a highly requested search for an iconographic source for the Japanese artistic expressions as declared by the early 19th century print of Utagawa Kuninao, preserved at the Civico Museo d’Arte Orientale representing an awabi fisherwoman – she’s also found in relation with the exposition’s photographs -, and a constant attraction for the Westerns, in fact, in 1954 even Fosco Maraini has photographed these Ama Japanese fisherwomen native to the island of Hèkura (Hegurajima), describing them in the notorious volume Japanese Hours of which the first edition will be exhibited.
Quite the opposite, Schroeder’s portraits depart from the more ancient tradition of Ukiyo-e, which describes young, sensual and lithe fisherwomen, and from Maraini’s photos.
The Belgian photographer exclusively returns the marked faces of mature women who, despite their age and the thousand wrinkles, rise in a suspended time, majestic, very elegant and still able to amaze us, even to seduce us.
A sense of mystery and distance pervades the photography of the Belgian Schroeder, confirming the profound influence suffered by Magritte’s surrealism.