To capture these sublime images Kim Young Gap would return to the same exact location, day after day,waiting for‘ the golden light’that would allow him to grasp the essence of Jeju Island. Photo courtesy Kim Young Gap Gallery
It is a daunting task to write about the work of Kim Young Gap, a man who refused to degrade the images of his photographs with titles. To look on his work is to look at Jeju through his eyes. His pictures are not simply landscapes, but ingresses into the heart and soul of a man whose love affair with the beauty of Jeju disintegrated the border between the man and his art, until there was almost no distinction between the two. His photographs capture a Jeju that most who have been here, even for their entire lives will never see, for his pictures are not stills of oreums and green pastures, but self portraits of a man who, through the lens of his camera, was able to become one with the beauty he sought.
His humble gallery, on the back roads of Samdal-ri, stands as a shrine to the beauty of Jeju where thousands of people a year visit to see Kim’s passion captured on film. The converted elementary school, that now houses his paintings, was his home and studio for the last three years of his life before he passed away after a long battle with Lou Gehrig’s disease in 2005.
When he first moved to Jeju from Soul in 1985 he had no intentions of staying longer than required to take all the photographs of the island that he needed, informs Park Hun Il, gallery director and an old friend of Kim’s; 2 or 3 years at the most. The hidden beauty that Kim so desired to capture was more elusive than he had expected. Kim, armed with his camera and tripod, would walk through the mid-mountain ranges looking for the beauty of Jeju. He would spend days searching for the perfect shot and once he saw the image he was looking for he would set up his camera and wait, returning to the same exact place day after day waiting for the wind to push the clouds into frame, the sun to give the perfect light, for the colors to be palpable and full. He waited until there was no more beauty left for Jeju to give and then he would take his picture.
He spent the last ten years of his life walking through the mid-mountain ranges waiting to find the sublime. The tangerine famers who lived in the rural areas of his search did not know what to think of him. So alien he seemed with his long hair, his camera, sitting in fields for days on end that they mistook him for being mentally ill or at the very least a beggar and it was not uncommon for the police to be notified and asked to investigate.
Kim lived a poor existence unable to make a living as a photographer that those he was able to befriend kept him fed, clothed and sheltered. Kim lived with Park’s family for five years and though being a young, high school student at the time he recalls Kim leaving the house every morning and returning in the late evening like it were any other job. Any money that Kim was able to acquire he spent on film and to have his pictures developed.
Kim was known to return to the same exact spots in the mid-mountain ranges year after year, season after season, trying to grasp the essence of those areas in their different states of being. His obsession to find the hidden beauty of Jeju began to escalate to fanatical levels with Kim’s searches keeping outside in the elements for longer and longer durations.
In his attempt to surround himself in the awe-inspiring nature of Jeju he spent the remaining years of his life building his gallery. Photo courtesy Kim Young Gap Gallery
In 2000 Kim was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neuromuscular disease that destroys the nervous system and causes muscles to involve and atrophy, and it was estimated that he only had three years to live. As Kim grew sicker he moved into the vacant elementary school and became more and more depressed due to being unable to continue his work. He even tried to find a lighter camera that would allow him to venture out into the mountains, but to no avail, the disease was already too far along.
Too weak to leave his home, he began to transform the front yard of the school into a garden that was comprised of flowers, grass and trees that resembled those found in the mid-mountain ranges he loved. In his attempt to surround himself in the awe inspiring nature of Jeju he spent the remaining years of his life building his gallery.
The exhibition rooms are exactly the same now as they were when Kim created them. The Jeju lava rocks he lined the floors of the room with are still there, the sprawling garden still sprawls and his office with his rucksacks at the ready on a bench beside the door still contain his cameras.
ⓒ Jeju Weekly 2009 (http://www.jejuweekly.com)
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