The Southern Land Depicted with An Accent
Lee Jeong-rok unfolds to us the life-size map of the southern land. All of the place names seen on the map are written in Korean, and that, with a heavy southern accent. I do not know how long he has walked and wandered to draw the map. His map has all things fused into one. The sky-touching horizon, the copses standing as a silhouette in disarray over the low-lying ridge under the guardian tree on the outskirts of the village, the white frost covering the stubbles in the wide paddies and fields, the foot of the mountain draped as if sobbing ... they have stood there since long ago. While none of them assert themselves, all things by necessity stand just like that. His pupils are wide open as if to receive the land and everything lying on it that loom in the dim light. Now matter how far he may move, his landscape does not change, so long as he takes pictures of the southern land. For his heart always has the southern wind blowing in it. For he looks at the land, not with his eyes, but with his heart. The artist chooses early morning or late afternoon hours when the heavy and soft atmosphere shrouds the entire land. Those footprints that he must have left there may be erased by the action of the weather, but the land that had the same appearance a century ago, and a millennium ago, should maintain such appearance there a millennium or ten thousand years from now. For it is the original southern landscape delineated in his heart, in the memory of the Koreans.
In the sedate picture, none of the things have shadow with them. All things are shadows in themselves. In the landscape pressured by the monotonous atmosphere, my eyeglance half-unconsciously frisk looking for the grave that must be somewhere around there. Soon, I get to see that those tiny, round tombs are gently prostrate without exception between furrows, above a gently sloping hill, or under a pine tree. Or, although the grave buried in the dark may remain invisible, in his photography, I hear the heavily-laden strains of the poll-bearers and a woman's frightening cry that reverberates in the field. I can see countless white streamers fluttering from bamboo tops. Yet, the field that must have teemed with golden crops every autumn is to remain like that in a regretful gesture without heaving a joy even once.
Lee Jeong-rok's photography is a requiem offered to the deceased and spirits that must loiter in the land. I think that despite his young age, the artist has the instinctive sense that catches the unique scent of the land. In that case, it would be because his heart is filled with the wind that always courses across the southern fields.
Kim, Seung Gon (photo critic) / 1998